NJWEC – Sierra Club, NJ Chapter – So. Jersey Env’l. Justice Alliance
Contact: David Pringle, NJ Envl. Fed., 732-996-4288; Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club, 609-558-9100; Bill Wolfe, NJPEER, 609-397-8213
Trenton, NJ — Environmentalists urged the Corzine Administration and State Legislature to do more to correct the state’s broken hazardous waste site clean-up program today, the day before a NJDEP public hearing on the program and a week after DEP released related documents.
Tomorrow’s hearing (at 10 am in DEP’s 1st Floor Public Hearing Room, 401 East State St., Trenton) is on a proposed rule dictated by a recently passed law in response to community outrage over failed clean-ups at 2 Hamilton toxic waste sites: WR Grace and American Standard. The law requires DEP to notify property owners within 200 feet of a contaminated site.
“While notifying neighbors is a needed first step, a gigantic leap can’t happen soon enough to give DEP more authority over polluters to ensure real clean-ups AND the public even more meaningful input into the clean-up and redevelopment process,” said Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro), who sponsored the legislation.
The Hamilton, Mercer County sites are just two of many recent high profile examples of major flaws in the DEP’s site remediation programs. Others include:
- moving contaminated soil from the Edison Ford plant to sites all over Central Jersey in 2005;
- schools planned, built (Camden Early Childhood Development Center), and in some cases torn down (MLK in Trenton) on contaminated sites also in Union City (a state funded Abbott school on a radioactive Manhattan Project site), Gloucester City, and elsewhere;
- mercury poisoning at Kiddie Kollege Day Care in Gloucester County in 2006; and
- a federal district court judge admonishing the NJDEP for failing to protect the people of Jersey City from exposure to chromium.
While legislative hearings followed the 2005 and 2006 incidents, only relatively minor reforms like the subject of tomorrow’s hearing have become law. The needed major overhaul has stalled as the Legislature has been sidetracked by the upcoming elections, short lame duck session, and the outcome of a slow-moving, Administration-led “Legislative Reform Stakeholder Process”.
“We’re very concerned this process is being used by polluters to weaken oversight instead of fixing existing problems creating public health risks. We need standards to be strengthened, especially in communities already overburdened. At the very least this process has led to delayed environmental justice – it reminds me of Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome was burning,” said David Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation.
Late last Wednesday DEP released draft white papers from this process (available at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/srp/stakeholders/whitepapers/ ). The environmentalists say their preliminary review found these draft papers to be recycling issues from, and less comprehensive than, the 2005-6 legislative hearings, and did not state DEP’s position notwithstanding legislative requests to the contrary and stakeholders’ previous understanding of the process’s outcome.
“All this process did was take momentum away from fixing the program. The Administration used this process to dodge their responsibility to fix it and gave polluters the chance to weaken things further. These papers are about as useful as Charmin,” added Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel.
Alternatively, environmentalists are urging fundamental reforms framed by 6 basic principles:
- Emphasizing permanent clean-ups not temporary cover-ups – no caps for schools, residences, and daycares as well as no housing on landfills;
- Meaningful public involvement including but not limited to community input on the clean up plan, remedy selection and redevelopment;
- Ensuring environmental justice – stringent clean-ups in environmentally burdened communities, assessment of cumulative risk (multiple pollutants, multiple sources), and linking clean-up to redevelopment that benefits residents and neighbors;
- Prioritization not privatization of cleanups;
- Protective health-based standards utilizing the precautionary principle; and
- Increased enforcement – pulling back on voluntary clean-ups, increasing DEP field presence, assessing treble damages, empowering DEP to enforce cleanup standards for ecological impact (notwithstanding a 14 year old statutory mandate, DEP has yet to activate its ecological taskforce), etc.
“Poisoned sites can poison clean-up workers and those employed atop these sites after inadequate clean-up. DEP’s site remediation program must be fixed to protect both workers and community residents,” added Rick Engler of the NJ Work Environment Council (NJWEC).
“As someone who works directly in contaminated communities across the state I have seen first hand how NJDEP’s failed cleanup policies have affected families especially those with young children. New Jersey must move to strengthen its cleanup laws to put the protection of public health and the environment over the profits of polluters and developers,” stated Bob Spiegel
of the Edison Wetlands Association (EWA).
“Large corporations have left massive amounts chromium contamination for people in Hudson County to deal with. Governor Corzine’s NJDEP continues to use a Dick Cheney like process of behind closed door decision making on whether and how cleanup takes place at chromium contaminated sites. Right now the only way for the public to have real involvement in cleanup decisions is to go directly to Court and bypass NJDEP all together. Major reform is needed to put NJDEP back in the role of serving the public not corporations. When a fig leaf proposal like this gets issued, you have to worry about what hiding behind it,” said Joe Morris of the Jersey City-based Interfaith Community Organization (ICO).
Additional groups supporting the environmental positions described in this release include the NJ Environmental Lobby and the South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. Many additional groups are expected to sign on as well but were not available at press time.
“We need to put teeth back in cleanup laws and a spine in DEP enforcement. Otherwise, when the next Kiddie Kollege-type tragedy erupts – as it inevitably will – there will be no need to wonder how it could happen,” concluded Bill Wolfe of NJ Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (NJPEER).