TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate President and Acting Governor Richard J. Codey and Senator Ellen Karcher to create a statewide Office of the Environmental Prosecutor in order to pursue legal action against criminals who violate environmental laws in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate by a vote of 38-0.
“Our environment is a precious resource and New Jersey has to show a commitment to protecting it,” said Governor Codey. “An environmental prosecutor sends the message that we will pursue polluters in the Garden State wherever they turn up, and we will impose strict and appropriate penalties based on the severity of their crimes.”
“By concentrating environmental crimes prosecution under one office, we’re ensuring a committed, focused effort to stamping out pollution in the State,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “We need to have one division of State government whose sole purpose is to pursue legal action against environmental criminals, to show that we take environmental crime seriously and to help recoup losses to the State in terms of cleanup money needed to rehabilitate the worst pollution sites.”
The bill, a Senate Committee substitute for S-989, would establish a special Environmental Prosecutor under the Department of Law and Public Safety to handle criminal prosecutions for violations of State environmental law. The Prosecutor would be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the State Senate, and would be in charge of the Division of Environmental Law Enforcement under the Department of Law and Public Safety.
“We need to give the environmental prosecutor independence to follow the trail of pollution wherever it will lead,” said Senator Karcher. “It is my hope that with the environmental prosecutor serving under the Department of Law and Public Safety, the office will be above the fray of politics in Trenton, and will pursue cases regardless of political affiliation or donation history. Pollution is of bipartisan blame, and public safety is a bipartisan concern, so I look forward to an objective outlook from the environmental prosecutor in pursuing all polluters, whatever the politics of the current administration at the time.”
The sponsors noted that the concept of a special Environmental Prosecutor is not new to New Jersey. Governor Jim Florio created the position in 1990 by executive order to centralize responsibility for the coordination of the State’s criminal, civil and administrative enforcement of high-priority environmental cases, but Governor Christie Whitman abolished the office in 1994, claiming that it was not an efficient use of resources.
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration. An identical bill, A-1289, was approved by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, and is pending consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.