Trenton — Responding to the latest “bid rig” corruption indictments, New Jersey environmental leaders today proposed a comprehensive platform of ethics reforms to prevent future abuses and called on Governor Corzine and the state legislature to take aggressive and immediate action to enact it.
"New Jersey's air, land and water are major victims of political corruption in this state. If we want our state to be green, we need to make politics clean,” stated Dena Mottola Jaborska, the Executive Director of Environment New Jersey. “These reforms will help to ensure that government leaders make environmental policy decisions based on science and the law, not money and influence."
The reform agenda was developed by “CleanGreenNJ,” a new consortium of environmental and public interest organizations which includes Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Environment NJ, NJ Environmental Federation, NJ Environmental Lobby, NJ Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and others.
"We can never have clean air or clean water without clean government," said Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club Director. "Just like we have to clean up toxic waste sites, we have to clean up government and that is why we are forming this coalition. In New Jersey, development has become part of enterprise corruption: you take a worthless piece of property, use pay to play to change the zoning and get permits and then make millions. We have to stop this cycle of corruption that leads to sprawl and overdevelopment"
In order to restore the public trust and confidence in the agency, CleanGreenNJ is calling for an independent investigation of the DEP, to determine what happened and how pervasive the problems are. The group is also calling for whistleblower protections for DEP employees, and new government transparency to empower citizen watchdogs.
CleanGreenNJ’s platform calls on Governor Corzine and the NJ State legislature to:
- Investigate DEP operations and enforce ethics rules
- Empower DEP whistleblowers
- Bring transparency for citizen watchdogs
- Fix the campaign finance system and prohibit legislators from receiving outside sources of income
- Rein in recent developer initiatives
“DEP conducts public business behind closed doors, and provides routine daily access to political players and corporate lobbyists,” said Bill Wolfe, Director of New Jersey PEER. “This access is used to influence science and regulatory decisions and weaken protections. DEP then conceals these liaisons from the public by refusing to publish visitor logs, honor OPRA requests, or disclose meeting schedules. In fact, they even retaliate against conscientious employees who disclose corrupt practices.”
“We need to make DEP transparent, return protection of the environment and the public interest to the forefront of the agency's mission, and restore the integrity of the Department." concluded Wolfe.
“This is not just a few bad apples,” added David Pringle, Campaign Director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “This is systemic corruption.”
“Given the number of recent arrests and convictions of public officials, especially given the difficulty of proving corruption, it's clear that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” continued Pringle. “The only way clean officials can distinguish themselves from dirty ones is by immediately and aggressively implementing strong steps like those we're proposing. It is an outrage that it has come to this, it is an outrage how willing so many are to betray the public trust, and it is an outrage that so many have fallen so far short even in the first 10 days since the latest arrests."