TRENTON – Some 27 environmental and labor groups filed a lawsuit with the state Appellate Division to block the waiver rule recently implemented by the Department of Environmental Protection, calling it an unconstitutional power grab that will diminish the state’s quality of life.
The rule gives the department the ability to waive compliance with rules for applicants in certain situations as long as they do not compromise the environment or public health.
The lawsuit claims the rule is overly vague with no clearly-defined standards, and violates the separation of powers between the state legislative and executive branches.
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, described the waiver rule as “an abuse of power” that threatens to roll back some 40 years of environmental protections.
“It’s unconstitutional and unconscionable,” he said.
He said all facets of the environment-wetlands, stream buffers, endangered species, land use permitting, hunting, beach and open space access – would be directly impacted.
Doug O’Malley, a director for Environment New Jersey, said Christie has a history of issuing executive orders for items that could only move forward with legislative approval.
“It’s an illegal end-run,” he said. “He has overstepped his constitutional authority. There is no rule that gives the governor the ability to promulgate a blanket waiver rule.”
If the rule goes forward, it will lead to more sprawl and overdevelopment, the suit alleges.
Tittel added that the waiver rule is so wide open to interpretation that it can impact health and safety—and will ultimately lead to the powerful residents and businesses getting more of what they want.
“It’s about pay to play,” he said. “Everyone will come in for a waiver, why wouldn’t they? Who gets the waiver is going to be key.”
David Pringle, of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said the waiver rule could compromise the quality of drinking water and could produce flooding.
“It has loopholes wide enough to drive a truck through.”
The DEP wasn’t immediately available for comment.
A few weeks ago, Commissioner Bob Martin defended the waiver rule as a way to streamline a cumbersome bureaucracy and eliminate bottlenecks that could hold up projects.
“A lack of flexibility can sometimes produce unreasonable, unfair or unintended results that actually undermine the goal the rule or requirement was intended to attain,” Martin said at the time. “This rule provides us with a modest measure of flexibility to manage special circumstances but through a process that will be used under limited circumstances and with total transparency.”