Trenton—In what may be another setback in state attainment of clean water goals, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has again postponed a decision on whether to tighten water quality and land use standards for new construction, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The latest Corzine extension comes as approximately 400 major development projects involving up to 40,000 acres of land and thousands of new housing units await approval under the existing rules.
On Monday, March 5, 2007, Governor Corzine quietly issued an extension of the long-awaited Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “water quality management planning” rules, commonly referred to as the “sewer rules.” This is the second deferral of these rules under Corzine who, on June 19, 2006, had earlier extended the decision deadline until January 31, 2007. Corzine’s latest extension puts off a decision until April 1, 2007 but, in the interim, DEP may be poised to approve hundreds of backlogged projects that would have been blocked under tougher standards.
“Whether these hold-over projects are grandfathered and approved under the existing rules or subject to more stringent requirements of the new rules will be the critical test of the DEP’s commitment to protect water quality and combat sprawl,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “Thus far, all we’ve seen is a repeated pattern of delays, missed deadlines, and caving in to political opposition from developers.”
Years of inaction (back to the Whitman administration) on these sewer rules is a major reason why more than 1,000 state rivers, lakes and other waterways are so polluted they cannot be considered as fishable and swimmable under the federal Clean Water Act. Lack of effective controls for septic tanks enables sprawl to consume more than 15,000 acres per year, as New Jersey developers “build out” without limit. The resultant sprawl also contributes to the state’s persistent drought and flooding problems.
These oft-delayed DEP sewer rules are mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. The rules serve two basic functions: 1) establishing the framework for water quality planning and wastewater management; and 2) setting rules for the location and capacity of sewage treatment plants as well as residential and commercial septic systems that discharge to groundwater. Accordingly, if adopted, these rules would have a direct impact on sprawl and water resources by determining where development is allowed to occur.
Environmentalists stress that these rules are central to protecting state water and natural resources from the adverse impacts of over-development. In urging DEP to move forward with strong rules, this November virtually the entire New Jersey environmental community went on record in a letter to DEP Commissioner Jackson identifying the strengthening of the sewer rules as one of ten key policy initiatives for the state.