New Jersey Environmental Agency Wrestles With Transparency

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

New Jersey Environmental Agency Wrestles With Transparency

Proposed PEER Openness Rules Being Studied for "Feasibility and Practicality"

TRENTON, N.J. - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is now
considering adoption of a package of transparency rules proposed this
July by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The
agency says that it is taking additional time to "explore the
feasibility and practicality" of maintaining open calendars, improving
public notice and ending gag orders on its staff, according to a
September 25, 2009 Notice of Action by the agency.

Under the
state Administrative Procedures Act, DEP had 60 days to grant the PEER
petition, deny it, or seek an additional 30-day extension to render a
decision on the petition. The new deadline for a DEP decision is
October 27th with that decision slated for publication in the New
Jersey Register on November 2nd, one day before the gubernatorial
election. PEER first proposed these rules in 2007 but then-DEP
Commissioner Lisa Jackson rejected the rules on the very day they were
published.

"At least we are making progress - DEP has not
rejected our rules out of hand on the very first day. This year they
will be alive for 90 days before the ultimate action," stated New
Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. "These are
simple, common-sense steps to shed light on the back channels that
lobbyists, lawyers and consultants use to penetrate DEP."

The
PEER rules would require public disclosure of meetings and
communications between DEP policy makers and representatives for
regulated industries and developers. DEP routinely conducts these
meetings to negotiate permits, enforcement actions and health standards
behind closed doors. The PEER plan would also require that calendars of
top officials be posted on the web. Current Acting DEP Commissioner
Mark Mauriello has put his calendar off limits even to agency staff
after PEER revealed that he was meeting with industry lobbyists last
week about picks to the new Science Advisory Board.

Meanwhile,
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has started posting her calendars on the
agency's web site, although she had claimed executive privilege to
shield her calendar from public view when she was at DEP. Jackson's
posted calendars do not give the subject of meetings, however.

In
addition, PEER proposes that DEP ban gag orders so that scientists,
inspectors and other professional staff can speak honestly to the
public and the media without fear of retaliation. A recent gag rule at
DEP, for example, allows political staff to vet all scientific and
technical reports prior to release.

"Kermit the Frog said ‘It's
not easy being green' but in New Jersey it is harder being
transparent," Wolfe added. "DEP employees work at the agency but they
work for the public and should be allowed to communicate with their
true employers."

New Jersey's leading environmental groups have
also backed the PEER rulemaking petition, urging Gov. Corzine to
support it and additional DEP ethics reforms in an August 13, 2009
letter:

"Transparency and public disclosure can
serve as checks on corrupt practices. A petition for rulemaking to
force DEP to disclose all meetings and contact with third parties...
would go a long way towards restoring public confidence in DEP." Gov.
Corzine has yet to respond to the letter.

 

Read the DEP Notice of (In)Action

See the notice of publication for the PEER proposal

View the CleanGreen Coalition letter to Gov. Corzine urging openness reforms

Look at Lisa Jackson's on-line calendar at EPA

Examine the roots of recent corruption scandals at DEP

Review political manipulation of DEP public health science

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

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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