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Assembly Approves McKeon & Spencer Bill to Prevent Changes to DEP Regulations that Threaten Flooding Protections

(TRENTON) — A measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon and L. Grace Spencer asserting that proposed changes to environmental protection regulations meant to protect state waters and prevent flooding jeopardize these protections and are therefore inconsistent with the intent of the Legislature was approved 45-28-2 Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval.

“The amendments proposed by DEP threaten the very waters and natural habitats that these regulations are supposed to protect,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “New Jerseyans have consistently supported the acquisition of flood-prone lands to remove people and property from harm’s way, and the proposed regulatory changes to allow development and the disturbance of vegetation in riparian zones go against what residents want and what the state has been working on. DEP must abandon these conflicting revisions and go back to the drawing board.”

“While I commend the DEP for its attempt to streamline these regulations, this cannot be done at the expense of our water systems,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “In a state as densely populated as New Jersey that suffers from severe and chronic flooding events, the protection and preservation of our state water resources, including the quality and quantity of the state’s limited water supply, are essential to the quality of life and the economic health of our residents. These proposed changes contradict the purpose of these regulations and should either be revised or discarded.”

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing comprehensive changes to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act (FHACA) Rules to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, add appropriate flexibility, provide better consistency with federal, state, and local requirements, create additional permits-by-rule and general permits, and address implementation issues identified since the repeal and re-promulgation of the rules in Nov. 2007. Per the proposal, the “proposed amendments, repeals, and new rules consolidate similar provisions, simplify language, incorporate additional detail and description regarding the substantive standards that must be met to undertake regulated activities, and harmonize certain procedural provisions with the Department’s other land use regulations.”

The DEP is also proposing related changes to the Coastal Zone Management Rules and the Stormwater Management Rules to coincide with the FHACA Rules regarding development in flood hazard areas and the preservation of vegetation and habitat within and adjacent to surface waters.

The resolution maintains that while the Legislature supports and encourages regulatory changes that reduce complexity, correct conflicting regulations, and streamline the permitting process, the changes being proposed by the DEP go far beyond such doing and would weaken the state’s protection for flood-prone lands and water quality, resulting in more flooding and more pollutants entering state waters, and any regulatory changes that jeopardize the state’s ability to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program are inconsistent with the intent of the Legislature.

The resolution (ACR-249) declares that the proposed revisions to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules, Coastal Zone Management Rules, and Stormwater Management Rules by the DEP are not consistent with the intent of the Legislature.

The DEP Commissioner how has 30 days from the date of transmittal of this resolution to amend or withdraw the proposed rules and regulations. If nothing is done, the Legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the Constitution to invalidate the rules and regulations in whole or in part.

The resolution points out that the US Environmental Protection Agency Region 2, in response to the proposal by the DEP, noted that “measurable changes to Category 1 (C1) waters as a result of proposed changes to the rules would not comply with New Jersey’s water quality standards.