Trenton —The State of New Jersey is using its Clean Water State Revolving Fund to subsidize an array of developer schemes, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which is asking the federal government to intervene. At the same time, the state claims it has lacked the resources to enforce toxic landfill standards that would force cleanup of the most dangerous sites, according to correspondence released today by PEER.
Although New Jersey faces more than $12 billion in unfunded capital needs to meet minimum federal Clean Water Act standards, the Corzine administration has adopted new policies to divert scarce clean water financing to support a myriad of seemingly unrelated projects – most prominently a controversial luxury golf course resort slated for toxic marshes in the Meadowlands. Other eligible projects include –
- “Transit Villages”;
- “Brownfields Development Areas”; and
- “Transfer of Development Rights (TDR)” programs.
“What do luxury golf course condos, transit villages or a new market for trading development rights have to do with clean water?” asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who has sent a request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking for a review to see if the state plan violates federal Clean Water Act rules. “If anything, subsidizing more sprawling development is precisely the opposite of what New Jersey needs to reverse its steadily declining water quality.”
These projects are outlined in the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “Clean Water Financing: Proposed Federal Fiscal Year 2007 Priority System, Intended Use Plan, and Project Priority List.” While the document acknowledges that threats posed by landfills are a “major concern” it then proposes to use up to $25 million per project for “conduit financings” of developers to build “Solid Waste/Brownfield Remediation Projects.” By pursuing these high ticket items, the Division of Water Quality anticipates that as early as 2010, the Clean Water Revolving Fund will have insufficient funds remaining to fund the entire pool of projects that it has traditionally funded.
“These limited state funds should be targeted to give us the biggest bang for the buck in terms of reducing water pollution—not more bangs for those with the biggest bucks,” Wolfe added, noting that the state DEP has deflected PEER’s call to enforce its own landfill closure and cleanup laws which require no subsidies, citing lack of staff. “This is New Jersey’s field of schemes, where instead of Florida swampland we are peddling toxic brownfields.”
By law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must approve the New Jersey revolving fund spending plan to ensure that the monies are used consistent with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.