The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is touting a new Transformation Plan that it says will make the DEP more "customer friendly." However, all this so-called transformation will do is dismantle 30 years of environmental protections. The Transformation Plan is just a continuation of Governor Christie's war on the environment, which includes budget cuts, rollbacks, and stakeholder processes stacked with industry insiders.
What the DEP really means by "transformation" is that it plans to turn DEP employees into transformers, which are just robots that will push out permits for developers and polluters.
To achieve this so-called transformation, the DEP will rollback key protections, hold more stakeholder processes dominated by industry representatives, and conduct additional red tape hearings with outcomes that will be used as rationalization to destruct the environment.
The plan, which was released last week, is rife with Orwellian doublespeak. There's lots of talk of "streamlining" and "overreaching" but really, this plan contains jargon aimed to disguise what's really taking place: A systematic demolition of the DEP and the regulations and programs that go along with it.
For example, the transformation plan calls for more "flexibility in regulations" at the DEP. Translation: Regulations will be weakened to take care of politically connected developers and polluters. The DEP says it wants to waive "strict application regulations" and bring "common sense to the decision making process." Translation: Do whatever it takes to make the clients and polluters happy.
The plan says the DEP should rely more on science but the only science the DEP considers is political science. Another goal is to improve customer service, but when the DEP says customers, they don't mean the public. They're referring to the developers coming in for permits and approvals. In this transformed DEP, the public won't count and developer and polluters are considered "clients."
The plan talks about streamlining linear development. Translation: Push through more gas and power lines like the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and the Susquehanna Roseland Transmission line. It also says the DEP should do a cost benefit analysis. Translation: If it costs polluters too much, then they don't have to do it. The only people who benefit from a cost benefit analysis are the developers and polluters. The so-called transformation plan also recommends a rewrite of the Administrative Procedures Act, which will only weaken the Act and take away public input and oversight.
The DEP says its mission is to "promote economic development," but according to the law, the DEP's real mission is to protect the environment and public health. This plan goes to show they only value taking care of special interests, not the public interest and the environment. What they don't recognize is that protecting the environment will in turn lead to strong economic development; the two are not mutually exclusive. But, unfortunately, under this so-called transformation, economic development trumps environmental regulations.
Other Doublespeak Defined:
**Land use regulations are considered complex and overreaching, which means they will be privatized and weakened.
**Air quality rules are too stringent and should not be stricter than federal standards. This means they want to weaken air quality rules, which is dangerous. The EPA has wanted New Jersey to have stricter regulations because our air quality is some of the worst in the nation. By having the same air quality protections as Minnesota means we will have more children with asthma, and more people with lung disease. S
**Solid waste programs are too complex, which means they will be weakened.
**Water quality programs are overreaching, code that these programs will be weakened so more permits can be given out.
**DEP should rely on guidance documents for site remediation, which are currently under review and being rewritten by industry insiders.
**Water quality management planning rules must be changed to ensure there are enough areas for development, resulting in more sprawl and overdevelopment in environmentally sensitive places.
**Revisit rules that oversee the Highlands and Barnegat Bay, which again means protections will be weakened.
Governor Christie's war on the environment has already taken a serious toll on New Jersey. A budget that strips funding for environmental programs has passed, Executive Orders that give power to special interests have been implemented, proposals to privatize key government functions are being pushed through, and bad bills are going forward. Under the guise of red tape, we are seeing a systematic dismantling of environmental programs in New Jersey.
This Transformation Plan is part of that ongoing war. This plan shows that Governor Christie meant it when he said during the primaries that he wanted to get rid of DEP. If he is successful, the quality of our air and water, as well as the futures of our children, will be put in jeopardy and the DEP will be known as the Department of Extinct Programs.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.
ALSO BY JEFF TITTEL