TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection has proposed a series of new rules intended to quicken the clean-up of thousands of contaminated sites while reducing bureaucracy.
To do away with what DEP officials described as a “cumbersome” and “inefficient” process, the DEP will grant greater authority to licensed site remediation professionals, consultants who are hired by entities such as companies or developers who are required to clean a particular area of contaminants.
In order to ensure compliance, a 13-member Licensed Site Remediation Professional Board will issue licenses, investigate and take disciplinary action against LSRPs who do not follow the state’s strict standards and code of ethics. The board will have the ability to issue fines, suspensions and other penalties if standards aren’t met, DEP officials said.
David Sweeney, DEP’s assistant commissioner for Site Remediation, said giving LSRPs more direct supervision will free up the already slender number of case managers and other workers at the department to do other tasks. It will also prevent future back-ups, which have prevented many clean-up projects from moving forward, since there won’t be as much paperwork as there had been.
“It gives them the ability to take a lead role in cleaning up the site,” Sweeney said in a phone interview about LSRPs. “We literally had thousands of documents the staff wasn’t able to get around to.”
He said the DEP won’t cede all its duties to LSRPs. “We will still review the submissions (from the LSRPs). It must be clear that those professionals and their activities will be closely monitored by the DEP.”
The goal is to have a majority of the contaminated sites be reviewed by LSRPs by May 2012. Presently, the state has 16,140 contaminated sites and 475 LSRPs, according to Sweeney.
The LSRPs will monitor the progress of the clean-ups, ensuring certain benchmarks are met within a specific time period.
The rules also state that those who are cleaning up the sites will not need DEP approval every step of the way, ensuring speedier cleanups.
Sweeney said this is a huge requirement, which was included in the Site Remediation Act that was passed in May 2009, since more clean-ups are likely to be done.
“In the old days, companies could drag a clean-up for years and years and years,” he said. “Instead of 20 years, a clean-up may now take eight years.”
While the DEP said high clean-up standards will still be met with the change, at least one environmental official doesn’t believe the move is a good idea.
“These rules remove oversight from toxic clean-ups from DEP professional staffers to consultants that work for developers and polluters,” said N.J. Sierra Club Executive Director Jeff Tittel. “This is worse than the fox guarding the hen house; the fox is not only guarding the hen house, he is writing the security plan, and certifying the hen house is safe. These rules have more holes in them then a sieve and will mean more pollution and toxics going into our environment.”
Sweeney, however, said the LSRPs will have the responsibility to make determinations that are in the best interests of the public’s well being.
“If they make a decision that is not for the protection of the public’s health, we can take their licenses away,” he said.
Written comments may be submitted by Oct. 14 to Janis Hoagland, N.J Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Legal Affairs, Mail Code 401-041L; P.O. Box 402, 401 E. State St., 4th Floor, Trenton, NJ 08625-0402, ATTN:DEP Docket No. 12-11-07.