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Schaer Questions Christie’s Proposed One-Shot Gimmick to Divert $147 Million Intended to Help Clean Up Passaic River

Money from Settlements with Companies Who Dumped Agent Orange Chemicals in River Should be Used to Rectify Environmental Wrong, Not Plug Budget Hole

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Gary Schaer on Monday questioned the Christie administration’s proposal to use $147 million in funds recovered from polluters of the Passaic River as a “one-shot” gimmick to balance next year’s budget.

Schaer noted that the pollution of the Passaic River and the Newark Basin dates back to the 1950’s and ’60s when a now defunct Newark chemical company dumped cancer-causing chemicals into the river, chemicals that were byproducts of Agent Orange made for the military during the Vietnam War.

During Monday’s hearing over the proposed budget for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Schaer questioned the wisdom of diverting such a large some of money to the general fund when the potential cleanup costs for the Passaic River are estimated at up to $4 billion.

“The arduous attempts to rectify this environmental wrong have entangled 85 public entities in costly and drawn-out lawsuits while holding countless communities hostage. We’re talking about deadly chemicals that were repeatedly dumped into a river that traverses one of the most densely-populated parts of our state.

“Shouldn’t these funds be directed back to the affected areas to help ameliorate the situation? Will residents affected by this tragedy be fully compensated?

“I’m also gravely concerned about the risk associated with this proposed diversion since this amount is almost half of the entire surplus the administration is predicting for next fiscal year.

“It would appear that this is quite a risky gambit, particularly from an administration that has repeatedly derided these types of one-shot gimmicks.

“The funds recovered from these hard-fought lawsuits should be used to right these serious environmental wrongs rather than being diverted to plug a budget hole,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic).