On July 16, 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) Commissioner, Bob Martin, published a List of Policy Priorities and a Vision Statement (see links below) in written form that will serve as a guide for the NJDEP to be more efficient and consumer friendly. The goals of these two documents are to define the strategic vision of the NJDEP for the next four years and to provide the foundation for structural changes that will make the NJDEP an effective organization in the future. For persons who are involved in the investigation or remediation of contaminated sites in New Jersey, they are familiar with the NJDEP’s administrative processes, which sometimes can be unacceptably long. With the implementation of New Jersey’s License Site Remediation Professional (“LSRP”) program, which we have detailed in prior posts, NJDEP attempted to expedite the site remediation regulatory process. As the LSRP Program is extremely new, NJDEP seems to be auditing a high percentage of the cases within this program. However, the 2010 Vision Statement and Priorities List spans the entire NJDEP, not just the Site Remediation Program. Although Commissioner Martin acknowledged NJDEP’s core mission of protecting the environment, he emphasized the importance to be much more effective and institute a balanced implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Commissioner Martin commented on the importance of understanding and appreciating the impact NJDEP’s actions have on economic growth and environmental protection in New Jersey. Commissioner Martin stated that “protecting the environment should drive economic growth, not impede it.” In addition, he suggested the introduction of a “new culture” within NJDEP, with customer service, flexibility and effective use of performance metrics as key components. The Vision Statement recognizes NJDEP staff as its most important asset, while simultaneously requiring them to change how they perform their functions.
NJDEP staff have been instructed to base its decisions on science, facts and data with a focus on cost/benefit analyses. NJDEP will be utilizing new technologies to streamline operations and improve service. The communication between NJDEP and the regulated community must be constant and transparent, so that decisions are fully and clearly understood. To bolster the commissioner’s claims that NJDEP will work more closely and effectively with the regulated community, on August 17, 2010, NJDEP established a process to allow LSRPs and remediating parties to meet with experienced NJDEP staff to ask site specific technical questions. This service is being offered for new cases (initiated after November 4, 2009) that have opted into the LSRP Program. The technical consultation sessions will be held in face to face meetings to discuss technical issues related to a remediation of a site. This new service is part of NJDEP’s “compliance assistance” approach and will allow LSRPs and remediating parties to move forward with confidence. Although the Commissioner’s efforts to reform the NJDEP are commendable, time will tell whether NJDEP will recognize the real world impacts its decisions have on the regulated community and whether NJDEP will truly modify its behavior.