Trenton — An industry-supported bill that may significantly impede the process for designating a toxic site on the federal Superfund “National Priorities List” (NPL) list was approved by the New Jersey Assembly Environment Committee this week. Brushing aside objections raised in testimony by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the bill is also expected to draw support from the Christie administration as it steams toward enactment.
The bill (A2340 - Spencer, Greenwald) would require the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to prepare a technical report and hold a public hearing before recommending to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that a site be considered for inclusion on the federal Superfund NPL. In the name of transparency and public involvement however, it would erect hurdles to listing of additional Superfund sites – decisions that are supposed to be made by EPA on the basis of risk to human health and the environment. The net effect would leave more highly toxic sites under state jurisdiction.
While New Jersey used to have a program that sought to increase Superfund designations, it has largely eroded with the Christie administration providing regulatory relief to the development community and leaving gaping holes in public health safeguards, including –
- Deregulating deadly vapor intrusion that seeps into buildings atop incompletely cleaned sites;
- Abandoning groundwater contamination standards if the clean-up is found “technically impracticable” and
- Placing the clean-up decisions in the hands of private industry-selected and paid “Licensed Site Professionals.”
“The public health safety net in New Jersey is being shredded, strand by stand,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst. “The Superfund law was designed to prevent state inaction from allowing dangerous sites to fester, but at places like Pompton Lakes state resistance has allowed that community to remain trapped in a regulatory limbo for twenty years.”
The bill is supported by the chemical industry and business interests and would create a new process for how a toxic site gets listed on the Superfund NPL. DEP would also be authorized to consider social and economic issues rather than base decisions on public health alone, thus creating a process where behind-the-scenes lobbying would flourish and companies like DuPont could be expected to use it to keep Pompton Lakes off the NPL.
“The irony is that by invoking transparency, this bill sets up a process where all the decisions are made in the dark, absent any meaningful public involvement,” Wolfe added. Wolfe also points out that PEER in 2012 sued to obtain records showing that 35 sites besides Pompton Lakes were contaminated well above the NPL threshold, but remained as undesignated “Shadow Superfund” sites languishing under state jurisdiction. “This bill is a step to keeping New Jersey’s toxic legacy a living reality rather than a relic of the past.”
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