Trenton, NJ – Yesterday, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection released a final rule which provides the Department the discretion to waive environmental protections in order to allow businesses to bypass regulations when “unduly burdensome” or in conflict with the rules of other State agencies.
Many of the existing regulations and statues that stand to be overridden are critical for the protection of public health, workplace safety, and the environment. Standards for remediation of contaminated sites, protection of clean drinking water sources, and control of air emissions, for example, are established by the New Jersey Legislature and could be impacted by this rule.
“By authorizing the DEP to issue waivers when rules are “unduly burdensome,” the waiver rule asks that the DEP function outside of its core mission to protect the environment and requires the agency to weigh the economic and other non-environmental aspects of any given permit against the environmental benefits that arise from complying with the Department’s rules,” said Maeghan Brass, Conservation Advocate, New Jersey Audubon
“This rule will mean weakened protections and negative consequences for our air, land, and water,” Maeghan Brass continued. “Our environmental regulations and their consistent application provide a critical means of ensuring the protection of our natural resources.
In enacting environmental laws, the legislature has spoken as to when it allows DEP to waive the State’s environmental protections, and why. This rule allows for the subversion of the authority of the legislative branch which already determined instances that necessitate waiver provisions and set parameters for when waivers could be granted. For example, the Legislature has included specific and limited waiver provisions in the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.
Environmental regulations protect our natural resources which provide goods and services worth on the order of tens of billions of dollars annually in New Jersey. These benefits are realized by New Jerseyans through the provision of clean air and drinking water, buffering of floods and storm surges, carbon sequestration, and recreational opportunities. Benefits are also realized by businesses and industries that depend on the health of these resources (e.g. pharmaceuticals, agriculture, tourism) and seek to attract employees who value a quality of life that includes amenities such as access to clean water and green spaces in which to recreate.
“A subjective, case-by-case approach does not ensure the protection of our valuable natural resources, and provides less predictability in terms of what is expected of the regulated community” said Maeghan Brass. “This rule does not provide a winning situation for the majority of businesses or for the environment.”