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Assembly Panel Approves Barnes, McKeon, Gusciora & Spencer Bill to Halt Christie Administration from Waiving Environmental Regulations

A measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Peter J. Barnes III, John F. McKeon, Reed Gusciora and L. Grace Spencer aimed at halting the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from circumventing existing environmental regulations was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.

“The DEP does not have the statutory authority to promulgate one set of rules and regulations in order to waive other rules and regulations previously adopted as a result of legislation,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “Not only does this go against the very purpose of creating legislation, but it also has the potential to harm the environment and the residents of this state.”

The resolution (ACR-37) notes that the rules and regulations DEP proposed for public comment to establish a procedure to waive existing rules are not consistent with the original intent of the Legislature.

The waiver, proposed by the DEP last March, would allow the DEP Commissioner to exempt companies from longstanding environmental regulations, potentially harming the environment as well as workers employed in hazardous industries who depend on safe working conditions.

“This is an attempt by the department to completely circumvent a great deal of the environmental protections we have put in place to protect the people of this state,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “This is a classic example of this administration acting without regard for the laws of this state, a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly over the last two years.”

“This is the equivalent of letting the fox guard the hen house,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Without rules in place to preserve our environment, protect the public health and safeguard workers in dangerous industries, the private sector would have carte blanche to do whatever they want.”

The measure approved today would give the DEP Commissioner 30 days from the date of transmittal of the resolution to amend or withdraw the proposed rules and regulations, or 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.

“This violates the entire premise of having separate, but co-equal, branches of government,” said Spencer (D-Essex), Chair of the Assembly Environment Committee. “The administration cannot simply erase the laws on our books, especially when it comes to ignoring sensitive environmental concerns.”

The measure was approved by the Assembly Environment Committee by a vote of 5-2 and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.