Trenton — New Jersey is now looking for private companies to review applications and draft permits for all of its land use programs, according to a request for proposal posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The five-year contract would radically extend Governor Chris Christie’s privatization agenda into regulatory decisions traditionally seen as inherently governmental.
The request for proposal quietly posted on a state web site solicits bids from contractors to assume permit review and drafting for virtually all state land use regulations, including permits for flood control, coastal protection, wetlands, tidelands, stormwater management, the touted Highlands area protections and even threatened and endangered species reviews. Up to $600,000 “is expected to be available” during the first year of a five-year base contract that could be extended to a total of eight years, however, the source of funds in a strapped state budget are not identified. Bidding is slated to close on November 4, 2010.
“This is not just the fox guarding the henhouse; this is the fox issuing henhouse tickets to other foxes,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that privatization of air pollution permits under former Governor Christie Whitman scandalously imploded after state consultants were discovered stealing proprietary information from permit applications. “This is a hurried, secretive corporate giveaway of the entire suite of safeguards for soil, water, wildlife and landscapes.”
The request for proposal is structured on a sliding scale, where the contractor could take just a portion or all of the permit preparation duties from Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) scientists and technical specialists who now review applications and write conditions attached to permits. The DEP Commissioner under Christie, Robert Martin, had no prior environmental experience but did specialize in privatization and deregulation of water and energy public utility systems.
“This contract is structured so that any DEP scientist who raises a troublesome issue could find his or her job outsourced at the drop of a hat,” Wolfe added, noting that an internal DEP “cultural transformation” stresses collaboration with business. “Privatization is a means to impose corporate control over what are supposed to be independent government experts.”
The land use permit contract would continue a steady march of privatization of state public health and environmental protections. For example, the Christie administration put a number of industry consultants onto a newly formed Science Advisory Board which will determine what and how science is used to support tighter regulation of chemicals and pollutants, work formerly done by DEP scientists. Similarly, DEP is putting the finishing touches on a Corzine administration-backed plan to privatize oversight of clean-ups of toxic chemical sites, substituting for state review to ensure that hazards are abated.
“Corporate consultants can work both sides of the street, advising polluters one day and the regulators the next,” Wolfe concluded. “Business as usual will soon take on a special ominous meaning in New Jersey.”
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