Trenton — In the six months since assuming office, the administration of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has quietly taken a series of policy steps that signal a change of direction from promised efforts to restore clean water and combat urban sprawl, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These actions appear to belie key campaign pledges made by then-Senator Corzine during his 2005 campaign for governor.
During that campaign Corzine called for repealing the so-called “Fast Track” law that speeds issuance of development permits and for strengthening water quality protections. Instead of the following through on those promises, the Governor filled the “Czar” position created by Fast Track and –
- Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson testified to the Legislature that “we will implement it [Fast Track] no matter what you call it” and “even in the face of the Executive Order’s [moratorium], the Department has embarked on an ambitious program to recognize the powerful benefits of the [Fast Track] law for economic growth…in line with the Governor’s message of ‘invest, grow, and prosper’”;
- DEP has established an effective ban on new Category One (“C1”) stream protection designations. DEP recently denied a local Environmental Commission’s petition seeking to upgrade the North Branch of the Raritan River to “C1.” In addition, acquiescing to tremendous development pressures, DEP announced withdrawal of last year’s proposed Phase I Wanaque Reservoir cleanup plan for the Passaic, Pompton, and Ramapo Rivers; and
- The lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association was appointed DEP Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation.
“Even DEP concedes that sprawl is the number one environmental threat facing the state but one would not know this from its actions,” commented New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing to the recent DEP Report, “Environmental Trends 2005,” which found that:
“Of all stressors to the environment, conversion of undeveloped land may pose the highest ecological risk to New Jersey’s environment and people…physical alteration of habitat, a consequence of land use change, is one of the most compelling ecological problems…”
In addition to its policy U-turns, the Corzine administration has put a number of environmental actions on hold:
- Despite an early pledge to reconsider the McGreevey administration’s controversial pro-development position, there has no decision on preserving Petty’s Island;
- Gov. Corzine issued an order putting off already long-delayed reforms to sewer/septic rules, thus allowing thousands of acres of sensitive lands to be lost to septic or sewer-based development; and
- The Corzine administration failed to implement the flood hazard protection recommendations of the Codey Flood Taskforce Report, a lapse highlighted by yet another major Delaware River flood.
“Now that the budget battle is over and the Delaware River’s floodwaters have again receded from Trenton, it is unclear whether the Corzine administration will ever step up to the plate and re-engage the War on Sprawl,” Wolfe concluded.
Listen to DEP Commissioner’s Testimony in Support of Fast Track:
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.