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The Environmental Prosecutor — Establishing An Environmental Conscience For The Garden State

Despite the popular belief held outside the Garden State, New Jersey is not the post-apocalyptic wasteland that many envision. We are a diverse state that thrives on balance. For every industrial complex along Route 9, we have acre upon acre of sprawling horse farms and open tracts in Colts Neck Township. For every block of urban landscape, we have miles of beaches “down the shore.” The tenuous harmony between environment and development is one of the defining characteristics that make our state great.

However, that harmony does not come without a price.

The price of ensuring that our greens stay green, untainted by industrial waste and toxic pollution, is constant vigilance against those who would pump chemicals into our waters, into our lands and into our backyards. There has to be a line drawn in the sand, and clear-cut penalties for those who would cross that line and endanger the safety of our friends, our loved ones and our neighbors.

There has to be someone who will hold polluters accountable when they cross the line and foul our environment. New Jersey needs an Environmental Prosecutor, to act as the balancing force to those who would corrupt the natural beauty of our State. We need to send a message that, even though we may tolerate a misinformed perception of the Garden State, we will never tolerate real environmental crime perpetrated against everyone who calls New Jersey home.

In the New Jersey Senate, I am advancing legislation to create a special Environmental Prosecutor within the Department of Law and Public Safety to handle criminal actions taken against polluters in the State. By consolidating environmental prosecutions in one office within the State hierarchy, and raising public awareness about environmental crime through the creation of the new office, we are ensuring that these crimes will receive the attention and the resources they deserve.

The Environmental Prosecutor will not only be a reactive post when crimes occur, but will also be proactive as well, working with the State Legislature and regulatory agencies to close loopholes that allow environmental criminals to escape prosecution. As we move forward with criminal prosecutions, we will be able to tighten the net in which to catch those who would otherwise abuse the system to avoid penalty.

The concept of an Environmental Prosecutor is not a new one. In 1990, Governor Jim Florio created the office by Executive Order, and instilled in that office the authority to pursue criminal and civil cases against polluters on behalf of the State. Unfortunately, Governor Whitman abolished the post in 1994, claiming that an environmental prosecutor was not an efficient use of resources. Since then, environmental crimes have fallen under the general jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s office.

While the Attorney General has done an admirable job in prosecuting many high-profile environmental infractions, the highest-ranking law and public safety officer in the State cannot provide the full attention that environmental crime merits. We have to do better when it comes to the lasting environmental safety of our State.

Some opponents of my measure say that we’re creating an “anti-business” climate, that we’re over-regulating industries and demonstrating a closed-door mentality towards new economic opportunities. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we’re creating a “responsible business” climate. Companies that play by the environmental rules will have nothing to worry about.

New Jersey has had its share of environmental problems in the past, and in some places, we still have a lot of progress ahead of us. We have ecologically blighted areas and we have pristine wilderness. We have places that have been restored through the Spill Act, and we have places that may take generations to clean up. But steadily, we are making headway, and ensuring a cleaner New Jersey for our children and our grandchildren.

Unless we’re willing to put in the effort and the resources to protect our progress, all of our hard work may be for naught. Without a strong Environmental Prosecutor putting constant pressure on polluters to clean up their acts, the fictitious New Jersey wasteland that everyone imagines may someday become a reality.

Senator Karcher represents the 12th Legislative District, which includes parts of Monmouth and Mercer Counties. In the State Senate, she serves as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and as vice chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.