New Jersey Assembly Democrats:McKeon, Eustace Highlands Water Protection Bill Goes to the Governorís Desk

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McKeon, Eustace Highlands Water Protection Bill Goes to the Governorís Desk

An Assembly Concurrent Resolution sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon and Tim Eustace to invalidate certain DEP rules and regulations concerning septic system density standards in Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules cleared the legislature Monday evening with final approval in the Assembly, 41-25. It will now go to the Governor for further consideration.

On May 2, 2016, the DEP proposed for public comment in the New Jersey Register a rule proposal to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules. The provisions of the Highlands Act, with regard to the septic system density standards, have not changed since enactment of the act, and there is no provision in the Highlands Act directing the DEP to review and weaken its originally adopted rules.

As required by the Constitution, the Legislature previously informed the DEP, through ACR-192, of the Legislature's finding that this rule is not consistent with legislative intent.

The concurrent resolution (ACR-255) would invalidate, in whole, the DEP proposed rule adopted on April 21, 2017 and published in the New Jersey Register on June 5, 2017, which revised the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules.

"Not only is the Highlands Region the source of drinking water for more than half of our residents, but it also contains precious natural resources such as clean air, forest and wetlands, pristine watersheds, and many significant historical sites and recreational opportunities," continued McKeon. "The proposed new standards have the potential to add up to 12 percent more septic systems in the Highlands Region, which would have an adverse impact on the quality of the drinking water available to a majority of our residents and run starkly counter to the original intent of the Highlands Act."

ACR-192 and SCR-148 - which was filed with the Secretary of State in June -- declared that the proposal by the DEP to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules, published for public comment in the New Jersey Register on May 2, 2016, was not consistent with legislative intent. The DEP, pursuant to the Constitution, had 30 days following transmittal of that concurrent resolution to amend or withdraw the new rule or the Legislature. The DEP has not amended or withdrawn, or provided any notification to the

Legislature of its intention to amend or withdraw, the rule within 30 days after the transmission of ACR-192/SCR-148.

"The Highlands Region supplies 136 billion gallons of water or approximately one-third of the total amount of potable water used in the state," Eustace (D-Bergen, Passaic). "It is critical for the DEP to swiftly and efficiently take the necessary steps to maintain high quality water standards."

The bill was released by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on December 4.

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