August 1 has come and passed and (at least so far) not a single politically connected law firm has petitioned the Department of Environmental Protection to waive its established environmental safeguards and grant permits to projects that will despoil the environment.
That's what some green groups promised would happen if the Legislature failed to block the DEP from implementing its so-called 'waiver rule.' The Assembly passed a resolution to do just that. The Senate declined and the rule went into effect on Wednesday.
What does the dreaded waiver rule do?
It allows DEP to waive its regulations when:
- applicants demonstrate that applicable regulations pose an undue burden
- those regulations are in conflict with rules of other agencies, or
- when there is a public emergency, or
- when the permit would result in a net environmental benefit.
The basic idea is to give the department the flexibility to use common sense in situations where cracking through regulatory logjams would result in a beneficial outcome.
DEP Commissioner Bob Martin promises that the waiver process will be transparent, with all applications and actions posted prominently on the DEP's web site. The rule will be judiciously applied, he says, and he personally will review each case.
[Use this link to keep track of any waiver petitions]
Baloney, (or some more forceful term) says Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, who calls it the rule "one of the worst ever adopted in New Jersey and the broadest attack on environmental protections in 40 years."
The Sierrans and 26 other groups have gone to court to block it via Ed Lloyd and the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic.
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DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese says the waiver rule would have been handy back in January 2011 when successive storms left some northern New Jersey streets buried under up to 60 inches of snow. The towns wanted DEP to suspend its rules and allow them to dump the snow in rivers, but it took a frustratingly long time to get the Department's multiple divisions to approve the request.
Ragonese said the waiver rule would have allowed the department to recognize a public emergency and sanction the river dumping without delay. He said the rule is one of the ways his agency and the Christie administration are reaching out to "the average guy in New Jersey, the people who talk about government not working, or see government as too big, bureaucratic, and unfeeling."
Does that mean no one will seek a waiver to gain an unjustifiable advantage? Like some "connected" law firm? Or a consultant who goes to all the right fundraisers?
Will the enviros give Martin and his agency the chance to prove that their intentions are honorable?
Don't count on it. Tittel pledges to oppose every single waiver request.
Hey, this is New Jersey. Don't expect the green guys to be open minded about anything the Christie administration does. It isn't just the environment. It's politics, too.
Op-Ed: What the Waiver Rule Does -- and Doesn't -- Do
Editorial: N.J. DEP 'waiver rule' is a dangerous gamble on our environment
Waive Goodbye to Environmental Regulation: DEP Implements Waiver Rule
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