New Jersey Guts New Privatized Toxic Clean-Up Rules
“Safety Cushion” Extended to Polluters at Expense of Public Health
Trenton — Before new rules governing privately operated clean-up of toxic sites could be implemented, New Jersey has already substantially relaxed them to provide a “safety cushion” to responsible parties. This removes enforceable timetables that were the main promised benefit from ceding control of clean-ups to corporate consultants, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On October 4, 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed new rules that weaken new mandatory clean-up timeframes that were adopted just last December. In addition, DEP wants to soften standards for addressing vapor intrusion, a major problem in New Jersey on thousands of toxic sites that have merely been capped rather than thoroughly cleaned.
“This is regulatory bait and switch where public health is what gets ripped off,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing out that legislation authorizing privately overseen clean-ups was premised on the promise that they would be much faster than state supervised operations. “DEP caved before they even applied the new rules.”
Besides setting aside the specific deadlines for each phase of the clean-up process and penalties for failing to meet these schedules, DEP is also proposing to –
- Weaken the standard for addressing vapor intrusion from sites that supposedly had been remediated; and
- Abandon requirements that the corporate consultant “complete the delineation of the immediate environmental concern contaminant source” within two years; and
- Relieve consultants from liability for factors that arise after their initial reports, creating an incentive not to discover troublesome facts until late in the process.
According to DEP postings, the rationale for these rollbacks is to provide a “safety cushion” to responsible parties and their contractors due to the fact that “Stakeholders expressed concern” about strict requirements in the original regulations.
“The only stakeholders that DEP consulted were the polluters and their contractors. Blighted communities and homeowners are not complaining that clean-ups may be moving too fast – just the opposite,” added Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “Why is DEP pulling away the ‘safety cushion’ on vapor intrusion? DEP is now only concerned about toxic fumes seeping into basements when it sends people to the hospital and not when people are being slowly poisoned.”
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