Washington, DC — The New Jersey program for cleaning up old toxic sites has broken down and requires immediate federal intervention, according to a new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (IG). Significantly, the major problem in New Jersey is not lack of resources but lack of aggressive enforcement, echoing long-standing criticisms leveled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The new EPA OIG report blasts inordinate delays and mismanagement of state-supervised Superfund clean-ups performed under the authority of federal law. The report focuses on several toxic clean-up operations that had been going on for more than 20 years without completion and concludes that –
- New Jersey has the worst track record in the nation, accounting for more than one quarter of all unresolved Superfund clean-ups more than 20 years old;
- Delays are primarily due to the state department of Environmental protection (DEP) not using legal tools available to them to force responsible parties to clean up pollution; and
- The U.S. EPA should step in and take over mired state-supervised clean-ups.
“New Jersey used to have the strongest clean-up program in the country but now it is among the worst,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “We should be embarrassed that George Bush’s EPA has to step in and take over pollution control in our state.”
New Jersey DEP has been claiming that delays in these projects were due to overwhelming workloads and staff shortages. On examination, however, the EPA OIG rejected that excuse as unfounded:
“Claims about New Jersey’s overwhelming workload were brought to our attention during the evaluation. At that time, we requested documentation from NJDEP to support this workload challenge. We specified that we would need evidence that spanned the 20 year period since these sites were listed on the NPL. NJDEP did not provide this information.”
The Regional Office of EPA overseeing New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states agreed with all of the OIG findings and recommendations, including more rigorous federal oversight of state anti-pollution operations. By contrast, DEP, as represented by Assistant Commissioner for Site Remediation Irene Kropp, quibbled with the OIG findings and defended the progress made on the long-overdue clean-ups.
“This report argues strongly for replacing Irene Kropp with someone who can get the job done and stop making excuses,” Wolfe added, noting that these delays increase risks to the environment and human health while dramatically increasing clean-up costs. “DEP suffers from a shortage of will, not staff.”
The seven long-delayed (more than 20 years) sites reviewed by EPA OIG in depth were –
- Brick Township Landfill, Brick Township, Ocean County
- Evor Phillips Leasing Company, Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County
- Hercules, Inc., Gibbstown, Gloucester County
- American Cyanamid, Bridgewater Township, Somerset County
- Jones Industrial Services Landfill, Inc., South Brunswick, Middlesex County
- Universal Oil Products, East Rutherford, Bergen County
- Ventron/Velsicol, Wood Ridge Borough, Bergen County
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