Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When is a 'final' environmental ruling final in NJ?

New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli says that his bill, A-2722, would "put an end to the confusing and anti-business practice of allowing appointed state officials to overturn the decisions of administrative law judges."

In an Op-Ed  published on March 6 in the Gloucester County Times, Burzichelli argues his case, using the example of a builder in Hunterdon County who ran afoul of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) when he worked to restore a historic mill and farmstead.

Here's how the Assemblyman describes the case:
"The builder was aware that a prior potential buyer had been denied a permit for an above-grade septic system. Therefore, before beginning construction, he obtained a DEP determination that a permit wouldn’t be needed for the septic system, provided that the disposal field was constructed at grade level.

"In May 2004, the DEP filed violation notices against the builder, including an allegation that the septic field was built approximately 9 inches above grade, though that was disputed by the builder. The dispute ended up before an administrative law judge, but with that appeal still pending, the DEP kept filing violations that eventually carried $175,000 in penalties.

"In May 2010, the judge, saying that someone had to exercise “common sense,” issued a decision dismissing one $100,000 penalty and reducing another from $75,000 to $50,000.

"Yet, in December, the same DEP issued a 62-page decision rejecting the judge’s decision and restoring $166,000 of the $175,000 in penalties."

Burzichelli says that allowing the head of the affected state agency to "step right back in and overturn the judge’s decision" is un-American as it "lacks the checks and balances the Founding Fathers based our system of government upon.." He also says it "does nothing more than burden businesses trying to create jobs."

Under Burzichelli's legislation, the administrative law judge's decision would have been final. His bill  cleared the Assembly 77-0 on February 17 and now awaits action in a Senate committee.

The legislation --and the issue it addresses--have stirred up some strong opinions-- from both the business and environmental communities. We'd like to know what you think. 

Read the Assemblyman's arguments here, and his legislation, A-2722. (click on the bill number to see a full copy).Then give us your thoughts in the comment box below. If you don't see a comment box, click on the tiny 'comment' line to activate it..

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