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PBF, Valero, refinery let off hook under Christie Administration

titteljeff042411_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

Paulsboro is again suffering from another event that should have never happened. A total of 6.6 million gallons of oil, the amount of almost 700 tanker trucks, were spilled from an oil tank at the PBF Energy Refinery (formerly owned by Valero) on Thursday.

With the high price of gasoline we should not be wasting any oil. The odor of the oil can impact people as far away as Delaware and surrounding communities have already reported odor impacts. We are lucky the oil has not hit the Delaware River causing an environmental calamity. We are grateful for the hazmat crew with their Herculean efforts to get out there and protect us and the first responder who put themselves in harm’s way to help the community. These are the unfortunate outcomes of decreasing enforcement actions by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

These are the kind of consequences you get when you cut inspections and let polluters off the hook for violations. What happened today was directly caused by the Christie administration’s deregulation, weakening enforcement, rolling back standards and slashing fines.

Last February the Christie administration let the plant owners off the hook for air pollution violations. The DEP entered a settlement with the plant operators slashing a proposed $2.3 million air pollution fine to just $796,000, a $1.5 million (65 percent) reduction from the level recommended by enforcement staff.

The plant has a long history of violations including releasing “slurry oil” which reached the school grounds and releasing particulate matter, which causes respiratory problems, at levels 59 percent over the allowable rate. In June, the refinery released sulfur dioxide necessitating an evacuation of the Paulsboro High School, which is located next to the facility.

Will the refinery be let off the hook again for this violation? Enforcement serves as a deterrent but this administration has been weakening and decreasing compliance, enforcement, and violations by waiving fines and decreasing site inspections. Waiving enforcement results in more violations not less. The Christie administration is trying to weaken enforcement and compliance even more now. Now violators are called customers, indicating the DEP will be taking care of them not the people impacted by their pollution.

Enforcement acts as a deterrent. When stop enforcing, you end up with more violations. I do not think Chris Christie considered Sharpe James one of his customers when he sent him to jail as U.S. attorney.”

More violations and dangerous impacts to public health and safety are the result of letting polluters off the hook. Along with waiving enforcement fines, the Christie administration has been cutting back inspections at polluting facilities and issuing fewer citations against polluters. A newspaper report in May found routine inspections of air polluters decreased 65 percent, from 1,387 to 490 and actions taken against polluters breaking the law fell 25 percent, from 984 to 739 in the first six months of Governor Christie’s term.

When you cut enforcement and rollback fines there are consequences. DEP’s previous actions at this facility put the children at the school at risk as well as the people of the community. We are concerned that what is happening in Paulsboro could happen all across New Jersey.

Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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