Christie’s Barnegat Bay Shell Game
Regulatory Ruses to Evade Legal Duty to Impose Meaningful Pollution Controls
Trenton — The Christie administration has taken a series of bureaucratic steps to prevent adoption of effective pollution controls to help recovery in Barnegat Bay, one of the nation’s most imperiled estuaries, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In so doing, New Jersey has violated several directives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but it is not clear whether the federal agency will assert its primary jurisdiction and push its recalcitrant state “partner” aside to save the bay.
The intricate minuet by the Christie administration to avoid direct measures to reduce crippling nutrient pollution in Barnegat Bay has been going on for years. In 2012, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) even tried to remove it from the list of impaired waters required by the Clean Water Act. That gambit was blocked by EPA which demanded that DEP fill “significant data gaps” that prevented an objective assessment of the Bay’s water quality.
Despite telling EPA it would address the lack of data and standards and issuing a press release touting a new “ecosystem-based water quality monitoring network” to “provide the foundation for the development of appropriate water quality standards for the bay,” it appears Christie officials have again reneged:
- In July 2014 DEP submitted a draft Water Quality Assessment document that explicitly states that its highly touted “narrative nutrient criteria” designed to address biological impairment resulting from eutrophication (the process underway in that Bay) does not apply to Barnegat Bay;
- Nor will DEP have in place biological indicators and thresholds to assess ecological impairment in an objective measurable fashion. Nor will there be any such standards or measures in any other estuary, lake, ocean waters or non-wade-able river; and
- Perhaps most blatant of all, DEP is preventing publication of a massive study by Rutgers scientists finding Barnegat Bay to be in “significant ecological decline” and in a “highly eutrophic” condition due to nutrients leading to an increase in toxic brown tides, loss of eelgrass beds and livable habitat for shellfish and other marine life. This study would fill in many of these methodological gaps the state has delayed addressing.
“In order to choke off information falsifying his boast of Barnegat Bay as an environmental success story, Governor Christie is willing to let this estuary continue to atrophy,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst who obtained the suppressed study and other documents through a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA. “His strategy on ecological data is literally no news is good news.”
New Jersey’s 2014 submission of impaired waters to EPA is due in just weeks but it is clear from its July submission that the state will propose no recovery steps for Barnegat Bay. It will then be up to EPA to use its primary Clean Water Act authority to assume direct control over pollution control for Barnegat Bay or let the state slide for yet another two years.
“It has reached the point that if it wishes to retain any credibility, EPA must intervene to enforce Clean Water Act requirements,” added Wolfe, noting that Gov. Christie has vetoed legislation requiring adoption of a pollution diet in the form of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Barnegat Bay, instead signing a largely cosmetic bill on lawn fertilizer controls. “Barnegat Bay cannot afford to have the can kicked down the road for another two years.”
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