Trenton — The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today barred media representatives and the public from a closed-door meeting with selected lobbyists and others called to discuss legislative and regulatory changes in the troubled site remediation program, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Lobbyists for the chemical industry, Chamber of Commerce, and a lawyer for developers attended the by-invitation-only gathering held in the State House.
DEP has denied a PEER request for a list of attendees and the meeting agenda.
The meeting comes at a time when the Legislature is conducting oversight hearings as a result of a series of controversial breakdowns in the DEP toxic cleanup program, including the “Kiddie Kollege” tragedy in which children and teachers at a day-care center were exposed to mercury fumes from an improperly cleaned former thermometer factory.
The Senate Environment Committee held the most recent hearings on October 23, 2006, at which DEP Commissioner Jackson promised to develop a set of legislative and regulatory reforms. Based on this hearing, it is anticipated that DEP will propose legislation for introduction this spring.
“It does not bode well that DEP wants to develop its new toxic protection plan in secret with the usual suspects,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “This sham process flies in the face of the Corzine administration’s rhetorical commitment to promote open and accountable government.”
According to participants, this meeting focused on new approaches for addressing the more than 15,000 contaminated sites in New Jersey. Last month, Governor Corzine signed day-care licensing legislation in response to the Kiddie Kollege failure. Since that time, more than 60 additional day-care centers have been identified as located close to toxic waste sites.
Ironically, one topic at the meeting was DEP’s lack of communication with communities, local officials, and the public at large.
“DEP is supposed to work for the public,” Wolfe added. “We call on the Governor to direct the DEP Commissioner to provide advance public notice and public access to future meetings.”
Alerted in advance by a reporter who was also denied access to the 9:00 am meeting held in State House Annex Room 101, on February 16 PEER sent a letter of protest about the closed nature of this meeting.
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.