Trenton — In his first weeks in office, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has laid the foundation for a dramatic rollback of public health and hazardous chemical protections in one of the nation’s most polluted states, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today the Legislature will consider his nominee to run the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a business consultant with no prior environmental experience who specialized in privatizing public water systems.
“Governor Christie believes that environmental protections are hindering our economic recovery, setting New Jersey on a race to the bottom to reduce pollution controls to a minimum,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “Without offering a shred of evidence that the current economic recession and fiscal crisis are in any way related to environmental protection, Governor Christie has nonetheless embarked on a radical environmental retrenchment on a scale unprecedented in this state.”
Through a series of executive orders and transition plans, the Christie administration has created a “Regulatory Czar” in the Lt. Governor’s Office with veto power over regulations, established a policy to scale back more stringent state rules to federal minimums, announced plans to gut scores of DEP technical guidance documents and issued an order to privatize as many functions as possible, including compliance monitoring. For example, a long-awaited plan to cut sulfur content in fuel oil, a move with large public health as well as air quality benefits has been blocked after intense oil industry lobbying. In addition –
- The state’s highly-touted greenhouse gas reduction program has put on hold, with funds dedicated to renewable energy diverted;
- Imposed a moratorium on 12 major pending regulations on topics ranging from limits on perchlorate in drinking water to controls on wetlands and coastal zone developments; and
- Existing regulations may be nullified following a cost-benefit review overseen by the Lt. Gov.
Robert Martin, whom Gov. Christie nominated to serve as DEP Commissioner, has a background in finance and worked at the business planning firm Accenture where he specialized in work on privatization and deregulation of water and energy public utility systems. Martin has stated that he hopes that DEP will play a more active role in promoting economic development, although DEP is a regulatory agency that does not have economic development as part of its legislative mission.
“Why is a man with zero environmental experience qualified to run a complex $300 million regulatory agency with a staff of more than 3,000?” asked Wolfe. “Environmental protection should not be made into another corporate spinoff.”
One of two Republican governors elected in 2009, Christie may offer a template of eco-dismantlement for other gubernatorial hopefuls seeking to capitalize on anti-government sentiment. Since many of the DEP programs operate under federal delegation with national minimum standards, Christie’s actions set him on a collision course with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, headed by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.
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