Trenton — Without prior notice or opportunity for public comment, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has adopted regulations that create a whole new Division to implement the controversial “Fast Track” program, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The DEP actions, which take immediate effect, appear to run counter to orders by Acting Governor Richard Codey slamming the brakes on Fast Track until the federal government certifies that Fast Track does not violate federal law.
The surprise move by DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell came in the form of an administrative decree quietly placed into the New Jersey Register on September 6, 2005. In contrast to its usual aggressive public relations approach under Campbell, in which DEP sometimes issues multiple news releases in one day, there was no public advisory or release for the Fast Track DEP reorganization.
The DEP rules establish a new “Division of Smart Growth.” The Division is integral to implementing the controversial Fast Track legislation in which developers would receive expedited treatment of construction proposals and be allowed to self-certify compliance with environmental and other public health and safety requirements without public review. Under Fast Track, development permit applications would be deemed approved by default if DEP failed to meet strict review deadlines.
“Why does New Jersey DEP have staff and money for Fast Track to aid developers, but claims to lack resources to implement basic clean water protections that have been neglected for years?” asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP employee, pointing to a series of stalled DEP plans for flood protection, standards for toxic water pollutants, anti-sprawl septic controls, special designations of 1,500 “Category One waters” recommended by DEP scientists, and wildlife protection rules.
Campbell’s bureaucratic maneuver comes at a time when 60 legislators have co-sponsored a bill to repeal the controversial Fast Track law. Both Gubernatorial candidates have also raised concerns about the legislation. Despite the growing momentum to end or change the program, Campbell ’s Reorganization Plan shifts money and personnel toward implementation of Fast Track.
Campbell touted the Fast Track bill that was signed into law by then-Governor James McGreevey in July 2004. But after the full implications of the bill became known, policymakers had second thoughts. McGreevey’s imposed a temporary moratorium last November, which was extended and expanded by Acting Governor Codey on July 12, 2005. Codey’s order expressly prohibits implementation of Fast Track until the federal government enters into a written agreement with the state with respect to compliance with federal law.
“Acting Governor Codey is declaring Fast Track to be dead but his DEP Commissioner is busily digging it up from the grave,” Wolfe added.
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.