Report: NJ DEP Environmental Actions Plummet

NJ Press Media
Todd B. Bates
tbates@njpressmedia.com

July 2o, 2013

The number of state and county environmental enforcement actions plummeted 54 percent from fiscal 2008 to 2012, according to a state report released Thursday.

“That’s a massive drop,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Enforcement is a deterrent, and the concern is that “the lack of enforcement ends up leading to more pollution, more contaminated sites, more air pollution, water problems, impact on public health,” said Tittel, who released the state Department of Environmental Protection report.

DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the number of contaminated sites has dropped from 20,000 to 14,200, among other environmental improvements.

The DEP’s strategy is “to get more compliance, to resolve problems quickly, with the overall goal of an improved environment, and in many cases that means picking up the phone, not sitting at the desk and churning out 50 violations,” and meeting with people, he said.

The new DEP compliance and enforcement report centers on fiscal years 2011 and 2012 and follows an Asbury Park Press investigation published last year.

The Press found that DEP fines for air quality, water quality and other environmental violations decreased from fiscal 2007 to 2011 under Democratic and Republican governors.

The ranks of enforcement inspectors also shrank, falling 20 percent since 2005.
According to the new report, the number of DEP and county enforcement actions dropped from 29,579 in 2008 to 18,360 in fiscal 2011 and 13,555 in fiscal 2012. The 2012 figure is the lowest since fiscal 2004, according to DEP reports. State fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30.

The number enforcement investigations was fairly steady in fiscal 2010 through 2012, however, reaching 11,947 in the latest year.

Site inspections nearly doubled to 60,234 in fiscal 2011 and 56,230 in 2012, according to the DEP .

Tittel said, “If inspections are up and compliance is about the same rate, then you should not see a massive drop in enforcement actions.”

Either violations are unenforced or violators are allowed to fix problems without being cited, he said, adding that he thinks it’s more of the latter.

“A lot of good things (are) going on, and a lot of good people work” in the DEP’s enforcement program, but the enforcement numbers “should raise concerns,” Tittel said.
Ragonese said the compliance and enforcement program has been rearranged and the number of violations and fines is not the indicator of an improved environment.

“We are looking to be more selective when we go out and enforce,” he said.
“We’re looking to do it more intelligently. We’re in effect profiling in many ways.”
“We still fine people,” he said. “We still take people to court. We still issue notices of violation, but we do it a lot less because we’re reaching out and trying to get off the old bureaucratic way of doing things.”
Todd B. Bates: 732-643-4237;
tbates@ njpressmedia.com

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