Thursday, May 24, 2012

NJ Assembly voting on 'waiver' bill and a gas from past

NJ Assembly Chamber - Tony Kurdzuk (Star Ledger)

New Jersey environmental groups are pushing hard for passage today of two bills in the state Assembly. The first would force the NJDEP to rewrite or withdraw its controversial 'waiver' rule. The second would invalidate Governor Chris Christie's removal of the state from RGGI, a regional greenhouse gas compact.

Waiver rule: A common sense tool or environmental protection threat?

Commissioner Bob Martin describes the Department of Environmental Protection's new
waiver rule, effective Aug. 1, as a common sense move, providing the agency with flexibility
to modify compliance with development rules in circumstances that do not compromise environmental protections.

Martin argues that the waiver process will be transparent, with all applications and actions posted prominently on the DEP's web site.

To be approved, a developer would have to demonstrate at least one of four criteria:
  • Public Emergency -- There is a public emergency that has been formally declared.
  • Conflicting Rules -- Conflicting rules (between federal and state agencies, or between state agencies) are adversely impacting a project or activity from proceeding.
  • Net Environmental Benefit -- A net environmental benefit would be achieved.
  • Undue Hardship -- Undue hardship is being imposed by the rule requirements.

"A lack of flexibility can sometimes produce unreasonable, unfair or unintended results that actually undermine the goal the rule or requirement was intended to attain,'' Martin said.

Are both sides talking about the same rule?

In dramatic contrast, environmental groups see the rule as "one of the biggest threats to the environment in the history of the Department of Environmental Protection,” according to Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel whose organization has joined with others in a law suit to block it.

"The waiver rule is an egregious affront to the laws that protect New Jersey’s environment and our health," echoed the Raritan Headwaters Association.

“Under the guise of improving the environment, DEP’s waiver rule actually reduces the environmental protection that each and every New Jersey citizen is entitled to, and in adopting a blanket waiver rule DEP has unconstitutionally exceeded the authority granted to it by the legislature,” stated Michael Pisauro of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby.

Resolution would amend or kill DEP's waiver rule

Set for a vote today in the Assembly is ACR 37 (Barnes). It declares the waiver rule to be inconsistent with legislative intent and orders it to be rewritten or withdrawn within 30 days.

Business groups like the NJ Chamber of Commerce, NJ Business and Industry Association and the NJ Builders Association oppose the resolution.

Look for a party line vote, with Republicans siding with the Christie Administration. 

RGGI Redux

Two bills also scheduled for Assembly votes today (A-1998/McKeon and S-1322/Sweeney) intend to put New Jersey back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (pronounced "Reggie") which Republican Governor Chris Christie declared to be environmentally ineffective and too costly to business when he ended the state's participation in 2011.

If the legislation looks familiar, it's because the Legislature passed a similar measure at the end of in the previous session. Governor Christie, as he had promised, vetoed it.

There's no reason to suspect that the outcome will be any different this time around.
(See: Enviros pushing lawmakers to get NJ back into RGGI)

Other energy and environmental bills up for Assembly votes today

A-1459 Gusciora, R. (D-15); McKeon, J.F. (D-27); Barnes III, P.J. (D-18)
Revises "Electronic Waste Management Act."  Related Bill: S-822

A-1527 Burzichelli, J.J. (D-3); Quijano, A. (D-20)
Concerns Watershed Property Review Board in DEP. Related Bill: S-525

A-1534 Burzichelli, J.J. (D-3); Quijano, A. (D-20)
Requires DEP to conduct analysis of "Pollution Prevention Act."

A-2316 Chivukula, U.J. (D-17); McKeon, J.F. (D-27)
Authorizes certain municipalities and rural electric cooperatives to establish a municipal shared services energy authority. Related Bill: S-1389

A-2504 Prieto, V. (D-32); Vainieri Huttle, V. (D-37)
Provides for voluntary contributions by taxpayers on gross income tax returns for the Meadowlands Conservation Trust.

A-2584 Ramos Jr., R.J. (D-33); Caputo, R.R. (D-28); Amodeo, J.F. (R-2); Burzichelli, J.J. (D-3)
Requires DEP to allow for correction of technical and administrative permit application violations; and subjects adoption of DEP technical manuals to Administrative Procedure Act."

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