New Jersey DEP Proposes Relaxing Some Environmental Restrictions

Published April 11, 2011

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has announced it will do its part to help restore jobs and revitalize the state economy by relaxing some regulations on state businesses.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) action stems from a 2010 executive order in which Gov. Chris Christie (R) outlined “Common Sense Principles” for state agencies to develop and follow so business applicants would not face unduly burdensome regulations. DEP on March 7 published a draft rule in the New Jersey Register that would allow the waving of certain environmental regulations, especially those seen as significant hindrances to economic growth in the state.
‘Practicality and Flexibility’
DEP officials promise the regulatory atmosphere will not relax to the point of compromising the environment. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has publicly praised the proposed rule as an effective means of boosting the state’s economy while upholding existing environmental standards.
“It offers up a practicality and flexibility,” said Michael Egenton, senior vice president of Environment and Transportation for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
“We see this as an important tool, a win-win situation,” Egenton added, noting requests for regulatory waivers will not be automatically granted. “Certain conditions will have to be met before a waiver will be granted, and the application for any waiver will have to be site- and fact-specific.”
Egenton says each waiver application will be decided on a case-by-case basis. This process will ensure environmental impacts are considered for each individual waiver application. Moreover, no waiver can be awarded that would compromise public health.

Federal Mandates Still Apply
Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, notes New Jersey’s environmental regulations could never dip below the standards already mandated by Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New Jersey can only loosen state mandates that go above and beyond the protections mandated by the federal government.

“The agency would never be allowed to waive federal law,” Burnett said. “Environmental protections will remain strong because federal law always sets the minimum.”
Long Path to Implementation
Egenton notes the proposed rule still has a way to go before implementation. DEP has to collect and disseminate all the comments from a required public hearing, then tweak the text based on these findings. A proposal like this, he said, typically generates enormous public reaction, which can slow down the rulemaking process considerably.
Nevertheless, he said, “I think that because this is an administrative action … it will go forward [and be implemented] sometime this year.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.