Senate Energy panel opposes administration’s waiver rule

TRENTON – The Senate Energy and Environment Committee released by a 3-1 vote a resolution stating that the proposed waiver rule by the Department of Environmental Protection is “not consistent with the intent of the Legislature.”

The resolution states that “The DEP does not have the statutory authority to promulgate one set of rules and regulations in order to waive other rules and regulations previously adopted.” It adds that “The DEP does not possess the statutory authority to establish a procedure for the waiver of department rules adopted.”

Only Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-12), Red Bank opposed the resolution.

“I don’t believe that our Department of Environmental Protection and its professionals will suddenly forget their mission to protect the environment,” she said, adding that the flexibility provided by the waiver rule will help them do their job better.

She called the resolution a “a political document,” adding that she “doesn’t find a lot of substance” in it.

But the Democrats on the committee -Sens. Bob Smith, Linda Greenstein and Nick Sacco (filling in for Sen. Jim Whelan) voted in favor of the resolution.

Environmental groups supported the resolution, saying that the proposed waiver rule is arbitrary and would put aside various environmental protections in the name of expediency.

Maya Van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network  said the waiver rule could lead to development in areas where it shouldn’t take place, causing “unnatural flooding” and pollution.

Van Rossum said New Jersey is one of the leading states in paying compensation to families who have suffered “repetitive loss” from flooding, upwards of  $500 million.

“When communities flood, people are put in jeopardy,” she said.

Sierra Club New Jersey Executive Director Jeff Tittel said the waiver rule comes straight out of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s template, adding that the proposed rule would be the “biggest assault” on the regulatory mechanism.

“This rule has nothing to do with New Jersey’s needs,” he said. “This has to do with a national political agenda.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association opposed the resolution, saying the proposed waiver rule would bring common sense to the DEP and help its customers.

“As we are trying to grow our economy, we need to have a department that is willing to work with business and protect the environment,” Sara Bluhm of the  association said.

She added that it’s not necessarily true that all waivers will be granted, since there is an application process involved.

Michael Egenton, a senior vice president of the N.J. Chamber of Commerce, called it an important tool in the economic toolbox. He said a lot of “fear mongering” had already taken place before the wavier rule has even been implemented.  

“Give the rule a chance, let it go forward,” Egenton said. “You can always revisit.”

Adam Liebtag, of the CWA Local 1036, which represents several DEP employees, called the proposed waiver rule mechanism an “executive branch power grab.”

One official said some DEP scientists were being pressured to approve waiver applications.

That statement set off Beck, who said Liebtag was making a serious charge.

“That’s hearsay. It’s a pretty strong allegation,” she said. “You are reporting on what’s the conjecture of others.  I think you should be pretty careful with those words.”

The New Jersey Builders Association was opposed to the resolution, saying the proposed waiver mechanism takes a balanced approach between environmental protections and economic growth.

“There are situations where it just makes common sense to make a waiver,” said NJBA attorney Paul Schneider.

Senate Energy panel opposes administration’s waiver rule