Fox, henhouse, etc.

If I lived in NJ, I’d be really, really upset about this. Because the state has so many chemical plants, and the companies pour so much money into elections, I’d have to worry about whether this is de facto deregulation — not to mention the probable participation of organized crime, who already has such a wonderful track record with solid waste:

With more Superfund sites than any state in the country and more than 16,000 hazardous-waste cleanups pending, New Jersey’s industrial landscape has long made it a punch line of pollution jokes.

But now that state environmental officials are trying to trim the backlog by handing control to the private sector, they are facing a backlash from both the state’s environmentalists and its industrial and chemical companies.

Under plans still being reviewed, state-licensed environmental professionals will be granted day-to-day autonomy, relegating state bureaucrats to the role of auditors on the majority of cases.

Environmental activists fear that leaving more of the cleanup to the private sector will lower standards and increase the risk to public health.

“The system we had was broken. There wasn’t enough oversight or enforcement,” said New Jersey Sierra Club president Jeff Tittel. “But the question becomes: Now, will there be any oversight? We’re heading in a really scary direction.”

Groups representing oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to reduce what they describe as a still-untenable degree of bureaucracy within the system.

The overhaul is modeled after a system introduced in Massachusetts in 1994, which is garnering increased interest around the country as state budgets shrink and politicians begin to question the cost of managing years-long environmental cleanups.

In New Jersey, cuts to the Department of Environmental Protection’s budget – 13 percent since 2009 – have left it unable to continue in its role as case manager for hazardous-waste sites, said Deputy Commissioner David Sweeney.

4 thoughts on “Fox, henhouse, etc.

  1. Considering that the Mob has been running New Jersey since the turn of the last century it’s not as bad as it could be. Speaking about the Mafia, isn’t it strange how closely the Obama administration reflects the operations of Murder Incorporated of the 1920’s?

  2. No offense, susie, but this was bound to happen. When a site starts going through the investigation process it can drag on for years and years. Meanwhile, if there is toxic mess, it has to just sit there until every agency gets a crack at it and all of the studies are finished. Companies get slapped with the bill even when they weren’t responsible for the problem to begin with. I worked for a small chemical intermediates manufacturer that was bought by a large German chemicals company before I got a job there. The small company had a couple of superfund sites that it wanted to cleanup and just get on with life. But the German parent company found that it couldn’t proceed because the studies were still ongoing and would be for many years to come. It just dragged on and on. The company got saddled with the expense and the lawyers and the community where the superfund site was located couldn’t reclaim the land. I sat through one of the meetings where one of the people involved in the process went over it step by step and it was ludicrous how long it was going to take for each office that claimed oversight to do the same damn assays.
    In my own township, the army gave us a huge piece of land that was once part of a supply depot dating back to WWII. When it came time to build a new school, we looked at that land. it was more than enough property for our purposes and it was ideally situated. AND it was free. But after the board of ed’s lawyer went over the steps that it was going to require just to determine if there was anything dangerous on the property, we had to abandon it. We needed that land but waiting a couple of decades was out of the question. And we couldn’t go forward without triggering the concern troll board of ed mothers and environmental activists who would have flipped out if we’d just started construction on a site that might have been clean (or clean enough) to begin with.
    We had to turn to another piece of property with a $6 million price tag.
    So, it would be really great if the bureaus who oversee this stuff would consolidate and streamline the process of cleaning shit up. But after 20+ years of seeing how it operates, they made no attempt to police themselves and clean up their own act.
    Do I like the idea of privatizing this? Heck no, it’s going to cost us in the end. But what are you going to do? Sometimes activists work against their own interests and insist on overkill. When 3 steps might suffice, they want 15. Meanwhile, business, communities and school kids have to wait. And wait.
    And wait some more.
    Sometimes, there really is more to the story.

  3. It’s not as if I don’t already know this. As a reporter, I covered several SuperFund cleanups. But what we’re talking about here is a principle: Do you want it done quickly, or do you want it done properly? The rest is details. You can’t underfund agencies for decades and then complain that they take too long because they don’t have the manpower.

  4. There is a misperception that doing it quickly is not doing it properly. And what I am saying is that you don’t need 4 different agencies taking turns running the same tests over and over again. Put one agency in charge and fund them generously. OR give the agencies a fixed timeline for getting the job done. No one likes the idea of toxic messes least of all the companies who are dealing with the legacy of lax regulations from 60 years ago.
    I see this as a problem of too many agencies acting like their mission in life was the most important thing and no one else’s can proceed until they get a crack at making land owners miserable. Jobs may have something to do with that and that’s understandable. Who wants to be eaten up by another agency and lose their titles and authority. But the answer is not always another agency with a second or third round of studies and tests. Just get it done already. People are waiting.
    There is a space between overkill and no regulation that we need to occupy. It’s one where policies are reviewed and regulation is updated, to reflect modern technologies, and streamlined, to enhance efficiency. Maybe you don’t need as much money as you think. Or maybe you don’t need as many people holding on to their own little regulatory fifedoms. It’s too bad that the privatizers have been able to exploit this.

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