Today the Christie Administration's Red Tape Review Group submitted its findings and recommendations report to the governor. The report weakens environmental protections and limits public participation in rule making in issues that protect public safety.
The report allows for the automatic re-adoption of rules that have some changes without any public comments. Many times there are new studies or scientific findings that affect public health and the environment. Rules could be re-adopted without considering these effects. This recommendation goes against the public's right to comment.
The Review Group recommends that the length of time of rules be extended from 5 years to 7 years. Extending rules up to 7 years undermines the ability of government to be responsive to science and public need. By extending rule time, this will delay updating of rules based on scientific findings. With the re-adoption recommendation rules could be in place for 21 years without changes. This will have a direct impact on the environment and public health.
The report allows the DEP commissioner to make substantive changes of rules within 60 days rather than through the process of withdrawal and re-proposal. This eliminates public process and the input of the public on rules that affect environment and health and safety.
Changes to the Administrative Procedures Act give too much power to the DEP commissioner and take away the public's right to comment when it comes to rules, regulations and environmental standards. This recommendation allows upfront stakeholder meetings where special interests get to write rules. Giving the DEP commissioner these powers subjects rules to politics and games that can undermine public health and safety.
Delaying implementation of health-based standards for pollution or contaminants in drinking water affects public health and environment. The governor said that he will not use this process to weaken environmental protections, but when you change the way rules, regulations and standards are proposed or adopted, you weaken protections through the process.
The report expands the Council on Local Mandates and gives more power to nullify statutes and regulations. For example, if a stricter standard for drinking water comes forward and it requires more money for purification, municipalities won't have to adopt the mandate, which means more people could get sick or get cancer.
Recommendations to give administrative law judges more decision making power and to delegate final authority are being seriously considered, however not proposed at this time. The report gives the DEP commissioner the option not to appeal which we believe can undermine environmental protections. It allows the DEP commissioner to give authority to administrative law judges, which gives away a constitutional officer's power over environmental issues. This recommendation undermines the public's right to due process and the right to appeal.
The report includes a recommendation to get rid of unnecessary boards and task forces. We agree that there are superfluous task forces, but the administration's transition report suggested getting rid of the Highlands Council as an unnecessary board. Our concern is that it would get rid of boards such as the Highlands Council which protects the drinking water of the half the people of New Jersey.
The findings attack beach access rules taking side of marina owners and businesses over the public's right to go to the beach.
The report criticizes the DEP for not adopting Wildwood parking CAFRE rules which give flexibility on parking for development. This is the height of hypocrisy. It was the Christie Administration's moratorium on rule adoptions that killed this rule for the businesses along our coast.
The Red Tape Review Board finds that there are too many boards regulating land use. It recommends moving the state planning board to the office of the Secretary of State, giving it authority over the Highlands and water management. This is a dangerous step forward by giving the state planning board regulatory power over development in towns that don't want it.
Sen. Buono did not sign on to the final rules, which proves how bad the Red Tape Report is.
The general tone of the report was to bash the environment and did not really get to the needs of how to streamline regulations and move the environment forward. It was really about taking the sides of special interests, polluters and developers and how to weaken environmental protections in the state of New Jersey. Proposals from the Sierra Club and other environmentalists, such as how to streamline Green Acres to buy open space or how to do environmental reviews upfront, were not considered in this report, but things like sub-metering for the landlord lobby were included.
Jeff Tittel is the Director of the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter.