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Privatizing key N.J. DEP functions will lead to environmental disaster

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

Governor Christie's corporate takeover of our environment continues. Executive Orders and a Red Tape Review Task Force have targeted fundamental environmental protections and rolled back laws ensuring public health and safety. Now, the administration wants to privatize some of New Jersey's most important environmental programs.

Last week, the Christie Administration sent out a Request for Proposals seeking firms and consultants to work on land use permitting — programs that deal directly with sprawl and overdevelopment. Land use permitting oversees wetlands, stream encroachment, water allocation, stormwater, CAFRA (coastal), Highlands and much more. These programs have a direct impact New Jersey's landscapes and environment.

The privatization of such important functions would be extremely destructive for New Jersey. These permits directly affect our communities, our neighborhoods, and our quality of life. Handing over land use permitting to private consultants — many who have close ties with the developers themselves — will lead to more flooding, traffic, pollution, sprawl, and overdevelopment. Residents will pay higher property taxes and we will see even more of our precious open space disappear.

In addition, the quality of work will suffer. These private consultants will be shoddy at best. At worst, the consultants will push out permits for their clients and friends. This is much worse than the fox guarding the henhouse; it's the fox certifying that the henhouse is safe.

The DEP says privatization is needed in case there is a backlog in permitting. But according to the Permit Efficiency Task Force, the major cause of land use permitting delays at the DEP is because of these consultants themselves. The task force's report said 65 percent of the delays in permitting are due to incomplete applications, false information, or data that was omitted entirely. By privatizing land use, we will be handing over control of permitting to the very people who are responsible for the problem in the first place.

Christie's plan for privatization includes no licensing oversight, making this program even worse than the License Site Professional (LSP) program, which privatizes the cleanup of contaminated sites. At least the LSP program includes a board and requires a license. In this case, consultants will not be held accountable and permits will be written without regard to regulations. This is especially scary given the fact that many of these private consultants work for the developers who have applications in front of the DEP.

During the campaign, then-candidate Governor Christie said he would not privatize land use. Now as governor, the DEP is heading right down that path. Taking the responsibility from DEP and giving it to hired consultants that work for polluters would be devastating for the environment. This attempt at privatization comes directly after the privatization task force came out with a report to privatize state parks and their management. This is just one more attack in the ongoing assault on New Jersey's environment.

Outsourcing protections not only jeopardizes our environment but puts the public at risk. Removing oversight and privatizing government functions happened on Wall Street, and we all know how that ended. Now it's happening in New Jersey. In the old days, ‘privateer' was the nice word for pirate. We're turning DEP over to corporate pirates and raiders.

As someone who has been involved in land use permitting for more than 25 years, I have seen hundreds of applications that had incomplete information or included outright lies. A consultant will say there is one acre of wetland but it turns out there are three acres. They say there are not wetlands, but if you go to the site, you're ankle deep in water surrounded by skunk cabbage. Where they say they are outside of flood lines, you can see the damage from the last flood. These are the kind of lies consultants constantly tell in the name of pushing their project through. Without independent oversight, New Jersey will see houses being built in wetlands, in flood planes, and on top of rattlesnake dens.

There are reasons why important land use regulations exist, and there are consequences when those rules are breached. If homes are built on wetlands or in flood planes just because a consultant says it is okay, the people of New Jersey will be stuck with houses that flood, septic tanks that have failed, and rattlesnakes on their front porches.

We must protect New Jersey's environment and homeowners by ensuring development occurs in appropriate places. Privatizing key DEP functions is not the answer and will lead to environmental disaster.

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

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Comments (1)
1 Friday, 01 October 2010 05:47
Realist
Chicken Tittel comes calling again. Hey Jeff, shoot for the moon!

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