TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Barbara Buono which would expand the State Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) enforcement abilities and increase environmental penalties, bringing them more into line with current environmental priorities, was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 26-7.
“Right now, the DEP doesn’t have the authority to issue real penalties which protect our endangered natural resources,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Many of our most important environmental regulations rely on outdated and ineffective penalties to force compliance. This bill would bring our environmental penalty structure into the 21st Century.”
“Given the rate of development in New Jersey, environmental protection has to be a top priority for the State,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “However, under current statutes, the DEP’s penalties for even egregious ecological damage have become obsolete. We need to modernize the DEP’s enforcement authority, and give them the tools they need to safeguard our land, water and air.”
The bill, S-2650, 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, as amended, would increase the penalties assessed under these laws to a maximum of $35,000 per day for violations, and gives the DEP Commissioner greater authority to set rules and seek penalties on violators. Some of these penalties are currently set as low as $1,000 per violation.
“Under the current rules, even serious environmental offenders often escape with just a slap on the wrist,” said Senator Buono. “Penalties that were first set in the 1960’s cannot adequately address the environmental impact of crimes perpetrated more than forty years later. We cannot protect our environment with penalties that are less expensive than the cost of cleanup.”
The bill was introduced at a news conference earlier in the month at the headquarters of DC Trucking, 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 on the Penval Road site, the company only faces penalties up to $5,000.
“DC Trucking is one of the many violators in New Jersey who treat environmental penalties as the cost of business in the Garden State,” said Senator Vitale. “While many of our State’s corporate citizens seek to follow environmental law, our weak, outdated penalties for serious environmental crimes almost serve as a disincentive for companies required to clean up their pollution. We need to put in place strong penalties which reflect current environmental priorities, so that polluters can’t take advantage of the system.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.