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 26-11, receiving final legislative approval.
“New Jersey’s environmental enforcers are currently hamstrung by the outdated and ineffective penalties they can impose for even the most serious environmental violations,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Many of these penalties haven’t been updated in decades, and polluters take advantage of this fact to flaunt the law, viewing the meager fines as simply the cost of doing business in New Jersey. We need to give the DEP greater ability to impose serious penalties to clean up our communities in the Garden State.”
“As the most densely populated state in the nation, New Jersey cannot afford to lose an acre of space to pollution and contamination,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “However, looking at the current penalty structure available to the DEP, environmental enforcement appears to be a non-priority for New Jersey State Government. Through this legislation, we are seeking to update, in some cases for the first time, polluter penalties and bring the State’s environmental enforcement into the 21st century.”
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.
“When it’s more cost-effective to break the law than follow it, there’s no incentive for companies to act responsibly to protect our environment,” said Senator Buono. “This legislation will give teeth to New Jersey’s environmental watchdogs, and ensure tough penalties for those who break the law.”
The bill was first introduced at a news conference last May 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 a poster child for environmental abuse gone unchecked in our communities,” said Senator Vitale. “Despite years and years of rampant pollution, they have gotten by with slap-on-the-wrist penalties which pale in comparison to the higher cost of cleanup. Passage of this bill would send a message to DC Trucking and other polluters that in New Jersey, environmental crime does not pay.”
The bill was first approved by the Senate last June, and was approved, with amendments, by the Assembly last week. It now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.