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Vitale-Buono Bill To Modernize Environmental Penalties On Polluters

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 Environment Committee today by a vote of 3-0, with two abstentions.

“Some of our State’s most necessary environmental regulations are being enforced with decades-old penalties,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Many of these penalties are so outdated that companies regularly shirk their environmental responsibility, paying slap-on-the-wrist fines as the cost of business in New Jersey. The bill would give the DEP the authority to go after the most egregious polluters with meaningful penalties that safeguard our State’s environmental interests.”

“New Jersey’s natural resources should be treasured, and we need to levy tough penalties against polluters who would spoil our State’s natural beauty,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “However, our environmental regulatory structure hasn’t been updated in generations, and polluters are escaping serious penalties, instead paying pocket change in comparison to the damage they’re inflicting on our environment. We need to give the DEP the authority and the tools to enforce environmental law.”

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.

“Penalties first-established in the 1960’s don’t cut it in today’s day and age,” said Senator Buono. “Thanks to continued development, sprawl and pollution, our remaining pristine environmental resources are too valuable, and the stakes too high, to allow polluters to run rampant over our regulatory structure. This bill offers a necessary update to environmental penalties which have lost their teeth, to continue to preserve our remaining open space and wetlands.”

The bill was introduced at a news conference in 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 the poster-child for environmental neglect and the need to overhaul our polluter penalties,” said Senator Vitale. “The contaminated construction waste on their work site, which can be seen from the Turnpike, could potentially cost millions to clean up, yet they are charged a minimal penalty for their environmental transgressions. With passage of this bill, companies won’t be able to ignore environmental penalties, and would have to comply to the letter of the law.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for review.

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