Trenton — In his latest concession to the development lobby, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has quietly named a Fast Track “Czar” to speed issuance of building permits. The move is one of a recent series of actions to short-circuit environmental protections by the Corzine administration in the name of spurring economic growth, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The one-sentence April 15, 2008 press release from the Governor’s Office announces that Jong Sook Nee of Montclair in Essex County will serve as “Smart Growth Ombudsman.” This Smart Growth Ombudsman position, otherwise known as the Fast Track Czar, was created by a controversial law enacted during the McGreevey Administration in 2004. According to the Governor's Press Office, the Czar, a paid position, will be a key part of the Governor’s Policy Team.
In 2005, former Acting Governor Codey imposed a moratorium to block the implementation of the Fast Track law, in response to a public outcry in opposition to rolling back environmental protections to promote more sprawl development. In addition, Fast Track posed a number of thorny practical problems.
“Fast Track needed to be put in dry dock because it violates federal environmental law, and thus would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal environmental and transportation funding to New Jersey,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) analyst. “It is also fair to say that Fast Track is the polar opposite of smart growth.”
The Fast Track Czar appointment comes in the wake of leak of a Department of Community Affairs Task Force report seeking to dismantle environmental protections and a new DEP “Permit Efficiency Review Task Force” to recommend “streamlining” pollution safeguards.
Corzine’s actions stand in sharp contrast to one of his key pledges during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign to achieve a “Greener New Jersey.” Here is what candidate Corzine said about Fast Track:
“In recent years, New Jersey adopted a wrong-headed policy that 'fast-tracks' developers' permits without allowing for a smart review of environmental considerations. Jon Corzine believes this is bad for our natural environment and will only contribute to sprawl….The law treats a permit for building next to a drinking water reservoir, and a permit for building in a downtown urban area, the same way. Jon Corzine will replace this law - allowing a streamlined permitting process for urban areas, but guaranteeing discussion and fact-based review before we build on precious lands.”
Even as recently as a dozen days ago, in a speech to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, Governor Corzine was quoted as saying “There will be no Fast Tracking.”
“If the state is in fiscal crisis, why is Governor Corzine hiring new people to work on programs that he promised not to implement?” asked Wolfe added. “On the environment, the Governor appears to be running against his own campaign promises.”
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