Today the environmental roll backs and weakening of the Christie administration were center stage as NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin testified before the Assembly Budget Committee. The FY2016 budget targets the environment yet again, but is especially troubling as it continues the policy from last year’s budget of diverting money from Natural Resource Damage (NRD) litigation to the General Fund. This money should go towards cleaning up contaminated sites and restoration projects. The Budget Committee also challenged the Commissioner on dropping enforcement in the department, the administration’s refusal to update standards related to water quality, and the administration’s failure to address carbon pollution and climate change in New Jersey.
“Commissioner Bob Martin cannot defend the administration’s policies, the rollback and weakening of protections and diverting money for others purposes. Even more, he can’t defend the Exxon settlement. What you get is a public relations push without public policy. You get half-truths and misinformation. If he really answered the questions, he would have to admit this has been the worst administration in New Jersey history when it comes to environmental protection,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of The New Jersey Sierra Club.
Jeff continued, “This is a budget that is balanced on the backs of the environment and people that have suffered from pollution. It reflects continued roll backs and weakening of environmental protections by the Christie administration. This administration has cut enforcement, weakened protections on drinking water, and has failed to do anything on climate change.”
“Bob Martin should be ashamed of himself with this testimony. All he has to offer is spin and he is spinning out of control. He is nothing but Christie’s puppet in rolling back 40 years of environmental protection. He has proven today he will be remembered as the worse DEP Commissioner in History,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Again, the Christie administration is proposing to use money from NRD litigation to close budget gaps. NJDEP has proposed a settlement deal with Exxon Mobil and those monies could be diverted. Initially the state valued natural resource damages from Exxon’s activities at the Bayway and Bayonne refineries at $8.9 billion. Now NJDEP is proposing a settlement deal for $225 million that not only covers the two refineries, but an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 gas stations statewide. These sites have polluted thousands of acres of wetlands and waterways above and below ground. Even worse, the settlement deal weakens the cleanup standards that Exxon would have to meet at the Bayway site, leaving contamination in the ground rather than requiring its removal.
“The DEP now stands for the Department of Exxon Protection. This not at settlement; it is sell out of environment and taxpayers that Martin cannot defend. We are settling for less than 3 cents on the dollar, especially since the administration included hundreds of other sites. The Paulsboro Refinery alone could be a $1 billion NRD claim. This is the biggest corporate subsidy in state history The Exxon settlement is really a symbol of a budget whose priorities is taking care of corporate polluters over protecting the environment. Under the Christie administration, NRD means ‘No Real Dollars,’” said Jeff Tittel. “After the lawyers get $45 million and Christie steals $175 million to plug holes bin the budget only $5 million goes for environmental programs. This settlement robs the people and communities of the money they deserve for from being impacted by pollution. A ‘Dirty Deal done dirt cheap.’ ”
In the current budget and the proposed FY2016 budget there is language that would allow environment settlement money over $50 million to be diverted to the general fund. $140 million from the Passaic River cleanup litigation was diverted to the general fund in the current budget, and the language would allow the Governor to take up to $175 million from the Exxon money.
“It is Outrageous that Bob Martin thinks it is OK to steal environmental settlement money for General fund. Historically that money has gone back to the communities harmed by the pollution not for tax cuts to the rich or plug budget holes. The public is outraged over the dirty Exxon deal, yet Governor Christie has put the same language in next year’s budget to grab NRD settlement monies. It’s the same language that allowed them to steal $140 million from Passaic River Settlement. This is supposed to go to environmental programs and to the people in those areas who have been impacted by pollution. These resources should be held in the public trust and should not be grabbed by the Governor, yet again,” said Jeff Tittel.
While diverting NRD monies won from litigation started under previous administrations, the Christie administration has only participated in one new claim. The site in South Plainfield is a Superfund site under EPA jurisdiction and there action included New Jersey. Of the hundreds of sites under the NJDEP jurisdiction, NRD claims were not filed on any under the Christie administration. Claims could be pursued at the Ford Motor Company Superfund site in Ringwood, Solvay in Paulsboro, and a number of others. Previous administrations have filed a total of 131 NRD suits.
Between 2010 and 2012, inspection and enforcement has dropped by between 30%-60%, depending on the program area. The annual reports have not been posted on the NJDEP website, as required by statute, since the 2012 report. Inspection and enforcement actions may have dropped even further since that time, but the public is in the dark as the agency has failed to release information.
“When you cut back on enforcement, you send a message to polluters that it is OK to dump on New Jersey and if you get caught you will only get a slap on the wrist. This actually encourages more environmental law violations and pollution than it prevents,” said Jeff Tittel. “Commissioner Martin misrepresented the facts. The number of inspections are down, enforcement actions are down, but violations per inspections are up. This shows this administration sides with polluters over environmental protections.”
The state Water Supply Master Plan has not been updated since 1996. This administration prepared a draft report, but has failed to release it to the public. There has not been an overall plan for water supply needs for close to two decades. The plan is supposed to determine water availability and where there are potential water quality and quantity issues. The DEP may be allowing development in areas where there is not adequate water supply.
“The state has not updated the Water Supply Master plan since President Bill Clinton’s first term. The failure to do so is part of the overall efforts of the Christie administration to weaken protections for drinking water and side with developers over clean water. New Jersey has serious problems when it comes to protecting drinking water, whether it is from pollution or over withdrawal. Failing to update the plan is part of the Christie administration’s attack on clean water,” said Jeff Tittel.
The Christie administration has worked to prevent the work of the Drinking Water Quality Institute, only allowing them to meet twice in the past 5 years. At their last meeting, the Institute recommended the same standards for PFOA and PFNA that were first proposed and rejected by the Christie administration five years ago. Failure to implement these standards has resulted in more toxic chemicals in our drinking water.
“This is part of the Christie administration’s attack on science. He has not allowed the Drinking Water Quality Institute to meet or used their work to update drinking water standards which help protect people’s health and the environment. This administration would rather protect DuPont than the people drinking contaminated water,” said Jeff Tittel.
Governor Christie’s polices on climate change could jeopardize future federal funding for the state of New Jersey. He opposes President Obama’s Carbon Rules and has rolled back progress on meeting our state’s carbon pollution reduction goals. The Governor closed the Office of Climate Change and has stopped work done under previous administrations on adaptation and mitigation planning. New Jersey is the only coastal state that does not have an adaption and mitigation plan for sea level rise. Since EPA, HUD, and other federal agencies are requiring work on climate change and sea level rise, New Jersey’s failure to meet those federal guidelines could result in the federal government cutting funding. In addition to federal requirements, the state must achieve an 80 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 under the Global Warming Response Act. Earlier this month, Rutgers released a study indicating our state would have trouble meeting carbon reduction goals.
“This administration would rather side with the Koch Brothers and Big Oil over protecting the people of New Jersey from the impacts of climate change. When you deny the science and get rid of the programs on climate change, you are leaving the people of New Jersey vulnerable to the next storm. When you oppose the President’s Carbon Rules you not only hurt New Jersey environment but we could also lose federal funds. The Governor is sacrificing New Jersey’s environment and coast to his national political ambitions,” said Jeff Tittel.
Governor Christie’s proposal also targets open space. The Governor is proposing in his budget to take $19.5 million from CBT revenues to fund staff and operation in the Division of Parks and Forestry, which would result in about $10 million less open space. There is no funding for repairing our parks or capital improvements. The Governor’s proposal short changes urban areas. The budget will also use $7 million from previous Bond Acts to fund staff at agencies like Green Acres and the SADC. His plan designates even less money into open space acquisition.
“When it comes to open space, the Christie Administration is robbing Peter to pay Paul. They are taking money from one program to pay for another program, and then they are taking the money that paid for that program to pay for something else. There is significant less money for open space preservation, only about $10 million. The Governor’s plan is to take money from CBT and not use that money for open space, build or fix parks and instead fund staff. The voters did not support this money to be used to fund staff. It’s supposed to be used for open space,” said Tittel. “They will not increase funding to pay for open space so all they are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Barnegat Bay continues to be threatened by overdevelopment and non-point pollution. The Governor did the real damage when he conditionally vetoed the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) bill, more than five years ago. This bill, which the Sierra Club worked on passed both houses in bi-partisan fashion and would require the DEP to do a TMDL for the Bay within two years. The TMDL would have put a cap on pollution and would have required real comprehensive clean-up for the Bay. Had Christie not vetoed the bill, we would be making progress in cleaning up the bay instead of it getting more polluted. By vetoing the bill, he was on the side of polluters over the cleaning up the bay. Christie got rid of the mechanism to monitor the pollution and removed the timeline to implement the TMDL standard adding more pollution. His 9 point plan is a failure.
“Dr. Mike Kennish is a renowned scientist has been honored by he is peers for the work he has done on Barnegat Bay. He had done a landmark study on the pollution of Barnegat Bay and action the DEP must take to save the Bay. This administration has held up that report because they did not like the conclusion about the failure to protect the Bay. This is about attacking the science and scientists so the administration can protect developers and polluters. This is part of the administration’s roll back of environmental protections. When they don’t like the outcome they attack the science, and now they are attacking the scientists,” said Jeff Tittel. “The Christie Administration would rather see Barnegat Bay die then protect the Bay. Bob Martin would rather attack Mike Kennish then do his job to protect the bay.”
“At the same time the Governor is stealing money from environmental settlements, open space, and clean energy funds, he is giving massive subsidies to developers who don’t need it and proposing tax cuts for the wealthy. This is a budget that does not meet the needs of the people of the state. Again, the administration is balancing the budget on the backs of the environment and the communities impacted from pollution,” said Jeff Tittel Director NJ Sierra Club.
New Jersey Sierra Club