The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-8213;
Bill Boteler (202) 265-7337

New Jersey Industry Environmental Task Force Punts

'Month Late and a Dollar Short' Report Ignores Problems It Finds


An industry-dominated task force today delivered a long-awaited
report on reforming the Department of Environmental Protection that is
long on spin and short on substance, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While acknowledging major problems
and flaws, the task force report proposes minor repairs, like better
computer efficiency, but no real solutions.

DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson created the "Permit Efficiency
Review" Task Force by Administrative Order of March 18, 2008, directing
it to issue recommendations on administrative, regulatory and statutory
changes needed to streamline DEP permit programs. The Task Force report
was due on August 8 but was not released until today, more than a month
later, despite bearing an August 7 date on its cover.

The 27-page report is more notable for what it does not say than what it says:

  • Ignores Global Warming. Despite the charge that it address
    pressing climate change challenges, the Task Force mentions the topic
    only once in passing. Similarly, the report nods to but does not
    address sustainable development or how to address cumulative impacts;
  • Collapse
    of Scientific Capacity. The Task Force admits the problem when it
    states: "Through the first two decades of the DEP's history, the Office
    of Science and Research was one of the most highly regarded programs in
    the country. However, during the past two decades, budget cuts and
    reorganizations have undercut the quality of the program. While the
    Office still does excellent work, the staff simply cannot keep up with
    the breadth and scope of DEP needs." Yet it proposes no steps to
    reverse the decline in DEP's ability to apply science to environmental
    concerns; and
  • Politicization. The report says: "In the
    absence of a process to establish DEP permit review priorities,
    individuals and representatives of various constituencies frequently
    seek to establish preferences in permit review schedules. Such
    activities are rarely transparent to the public and can add to
    inefficiencies in the permitting process." But it recommends nothing to
    shield agency decisions from political pressure or manipulation.

"This report is a month late and a dollar short," stated New Jersey
PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, who has criticized the
Task Force as business-dominated, rife with conflicts of interest and
lacking public involvement. "The industry lobbyists who ghostwrote this
report were slick enough to dodge all the hot potatoes and lacked the
expertise to propose meaningful solutions."

The Task Force did acknowledge severe DEP staff and budget cuts hamper environmental protection:

"During the past two decades, despite an increasing number of rules
and regulations, with a corresponding increase in responsibilities and
workload, DEP staff levels have been reduced by more than 1,000
employees - about 25 percent. Further reductions are continuing to take
place as of this writing."

Yet the Task Force stopped short of recommending hiring more staff.

"This exercise simply kicked the can down the road for the next
administration to grapple with the underlying problems that are
wrecking New Jersey's environment," Wolfe added. "New computer programs
will not fix a system that is fundamentally corrupted."

Read the Task Force report

See PEER criticisms of the Task Force process

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.