The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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New Jersey Guts New Privatized Toxic Clean-Up Rules

“Safety Cushion” Extended to Polluters at Expense of Public Health


Before new rules governing privately operated clean-up of toxic sites
could be implemented, New Jersey has already substantially relaxed them
to provide a "safety cushion" to responsible parties. This removes
enforceable timetables that were the main promised benefit from ceding
control of clean-ups to corporate consultants, according to Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

On October 4, 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP) proposed new rules that weaken new mandatory clean-up timeframes
that were adopted just last December. In addition, DEP wants to soften
standards for addressing vapor intrusion, a major problem in New Jersey
on thousands of toxic sites that have merely been capped rather than
thoroughly cleaned.

"This is regulatory bait and switch where public health is what gets
ripped off," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing out
that legislation authorizing privately overseen clean-ups was premised
on the promise that they would be much faster than state supervised
operations. "DEP caved before they even applied the new rules."

Besides setting aside the specific deadlines for each phase of the
clean-up process and penalties for failing to meet these schedules, DEP
is also proposing to -

  • Weaken the standard for addressing vapor intrusion from sites that supposedly had been remediated; and
  • Abandon requirements that the corporate consultant "complete the
    delineation of the immediate environmental concern contaminant source"
    within two years; and
  • Relieve consultants from liability for factors that arise after
    their initial reports, creating an incentive not to discover troublesome
    facts until late in the process.

According to DEP postings, the rationale for these rollbacks is to
provide a "safety cushion" to responsible parties and their contractors
due to the fact that "Stakeholders expressed concern" about strict
requirements in the original regulations.

"The only stakeholders that DEP consulted were the polluters and their
contractors. Blighted communities and homeowners are not complaining
that clean-ups may be moving too fast - just the opposite," added Wolfe,
a former DEP analyst. "Why is DEP pulling away the 'safety cushion' on
vapor intrusion? DEP is now only concerned about toxic fumes seeping
into basements when it sends people to the hospital and not when people
are being slowly poisoned."

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.