WOODBRIDGE – At a news conference at a contaminated site on Penval Road, state lawmakers today unveiled legislation which would impose tougher penalties on polluters Statewide and enhance the enforcement powers of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“As it stands now, decades of environmental regulation have led to a crisscrossing maze of regulatory standards,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Woodbridge, who is leading efforts for enforcement modernization. “We need to ensure that the DEP has the tools to pursue modern-day polluters and levy fines which fit the crime – not penalties which were set decades ago. We want to give our State regulators the power they need to protect New Jersey’s environment, and the quality of life in our communities.”
“Giving New Jersey’s environmental protection laws real teeth and significant penalties would give serious pause to current and potential violators,” said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, D-Sayreville. “Fostering cleanup efforts instead of forcing protracted legal battles means a better environmental future for all of us.”
The proposed legislation, known as the Environmental Enforcement Enhancement Act, would amend a number of laws administered by the DEP to enhance and update the agency’s enforcement abilities. Among these laws are the State’s wetland protection and preservation laws, waterfront redevelopment regulations, flood control and dam safety laws, water quality assurance statutes, the Pesticide Control Act, water quality measures and New Jersey’s Endangered and Non-Game Species Conservation Act. Specifically, the proposed bill would increase the penalties assessed under these laws to a maximum of $50,000 per day for violations, and gives the DEP Commissioner greater authority to set rules and seek penalties on violators.
The bill sponsors argue that these laws are necessary to ensuring public health and the quality of our environment.
“The DEP’s enforcement capabilities need an overhaul, to ensure the continued safety and well-being of the public and preserve our State’s natural beauty,” said Senator Barbara Buono, D-Edison. “The agency is responsible for ensuring compliance with so many environmental laws we take for granted in New Jersey, but many of these statutes carry outdated penalties which do not reflect the impact on the public that rampant pollution has had. Our proposed legislation would enhance the authority of the DEP, and ensure that polluters cannot continue business-as-usual without paying to help clean up their mess.”
“While the current environmental regulations provide the necessary standards and procedures to ensure the protection of New Jersey residents, they are outdated with respect to implementation and enforcement,” said Assemblyman Joseph Vas, D-Perth Amboy. “We must provide our regulators with the authority needed to be taken seriously by the property owners and businesses that repeatedly ignore and/or litigate their environmental obligations; else we would be remiss in our responsibility to protect the State’s environment for future generations.”
The news conference was held at the DC Trucking site on Penval Road in Woodbridge. According to DEP files, DC Trucking has a history of dumping contaminated dirt on a protected flood plain at the site. Despite the fact that DC has dumped more than a million cubic yards of contaminated soil, the company only faces penalties up to $5,000.
“The fines levied by DEP don’t begin to cover the cost of a massive, and necessary, clean-up at DC Trucking,” said Senator Vitale. “For the company owners, it makes better business sense to violate the law than it does to follow it.”
“We applaud the lawmakers’ efforts to rid the Township and the State of polluters who have no regard for their neighbors and the environment,” said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac.
Both Mayor McCormac and DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson were on hand at the news conference to praise the efforts of the lawmakers to extend DEP’s enforcement capabilities into the 21st Century.