Trenton – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has proposed an industry-backed “flexible” pollution plan that eschews setting definite pollution limits for dischargers to some of the state’s dirtiest waters, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). DEP’s proposal would allow industrial facilities to develop vague and unenforceable “pollution minimization plans” rather than install wastewater treatment technology to meet strict effluent limits for toxic Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), as mandated by the Clean Water Act.

The plan covers waters already impaired by PCBs and represents another step back from a set of strict standards that the state proposed back in November 2002 but withdrew over concerns about costs to industry. As a “flexible” alternative to strict pollution standards, the proposal requires 39 industrial wastewater dischargers to merely monitor their effluent and, in some cases, develop something called a “pollutant minimization plan” (PMP). The content of these PMPs, however, are not defined, nor is there a timetable for implementation, leaving unanswered how these plans will be enforced and whether they will actually reduce the flow of toxic chemicals into New Jersey waters.

PCBs, whose manufacturing was banned in 1977, are a carcinogenic class of chemicals that accumulate in the environment and poison fish and harm wildlife. Besides not breaking down, these chemicals increase their concentration up the food chain as bigger predators and humans eat contaminated fish and animals

This proposal, which first appeared in the December 19, 2005 New Jersey Register, was one of former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell’s last official acts. Public comment on the proposal ended on February 17, 2006. As expected, the compromised DEP proposal drew support from the chemical industry, with a letter from the state Chemistry Council stating –

“The CCNJ supports in general, the use of pollution minimization plans (PMPs), in lieu of numerical limits…We also support a flexible approach, which the proposed rule on PCB PMPs endorses…We applaud the Department for attempting to take a practical and flexible approach to the issue.”

The proposal marks the culmination of a DEP retreat from implementing strict toxic standards. For more than ten years, New Jersey has been under a federal Environmental Protection Agency mandate to tighten its water pollution standards to limit discharge of PCBs, mercury, and the pesticide DDT. This federal Clean Water Act mandate was triggered by a 1994 “Biological Opinion” issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that found that New Jersey’s water quality standards for these bio-accumulative toxic chemicals were not protective of federally protected species, including bald eagle and peregrine falcon. EPA first threatened to impose these standards on New Jersey, back in 2000 during the tenure of former DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn.

“We call on the new Commissioner, Lisa Jackson, to reconsider Brad Campbell’s overly flexible approach,” said New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “While we support the proposed new PCB monitoring, monitoring must be based upon protective water quality standards and backed up by enforceable pollution discharge permit limits. We strongly urge the Commissioner to withdraw the PMP plan and re-propose the federally mandated November 2002 wildlife criteria.”


Read the PEER and environmental group comments on the proposal

View the DEP proposal

See the chemical industry comments in support of the proposal

Look at the chronology of DEP’s abandonment of PCB, mercury and DDT water quality standards &’s-water-quality-deadline/


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