The Latest Christie DEP Legacy: If This Doesn’t Warrant Legislative Oversight, Then Nothing Does

DEP Digs In Even Deeper in Fenimore Landfill Fiasco; What Has Become of the Legacy Landfill Law?

June 21st, 2014
Bill Wolfe 

You really can’t make this stuff up. Follow the latest foolishness in the Fenimore Fiasco.

The huge – almost unprecedented – controversy surrounding Fenimore landfill in Roxbury Township has gotten tons of media attention, emergency legislation, and significant DEP resources.

The recent continuing “in your face” campaign of strenuous protests by scores of Roxbury residents and the local group REACT have prompted Gov. Christie’s personal involvement.

Residents are outraged not only by the rotten egg smell in their town, but by how they have been treated by the DEP and completely shut out of State decisions regarding cleanup of the mess DEP made. Star Ledger reports:

“The second area of concern is with numerous aspects of the basic DEP decision-making process: the lack of transparency throughout this entire process; how this area was designated a brownfield; how Fenimore Landfill was approved to be reopened in violation of the State’s current rules and regulations; how a former felon was permitted to operate the landfill; the poorly considered decision to dump Sandy debris there; the DEP’s failure to keep the public adequately informed of the issues; and a suspicious refusal to provide soil samples of the area.”

Last summer, in one of the most aggressive, rapid, and successful legislative campaigns in NJ environmental history, well organized, well informed, and angry local activists successfully garnered rare emergency legislation, see  N.J.S.A. 13:1-125.1, known as the Legacy Landfill Law, enacted on June 26, 2013.  (see P.L. 2013, c. 69).

The bill that Gov. Christie signed into law was sponsored by Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith. Keep that in mind as well tell the latest outrage in this outrageous story.

Recently, the Legislature again stepped into the fray – but instead of passing emergency legislation giving DEP power to fix the problem, this time the environmental committee chairs from both Houses  (Senator Bob Smith and Assemblywoman Grace Spencer) wrote Governor Christie to demand an investigation by the Attorney General into the DEP’s handling of the Fenimore fiasco, see:

Given this ugly history and controversial context, the latest DEP move has me scratching my head – I am absolutely dumbfounded as to how something like this could possibly happen. Let me now explain – you really can’t make this stuff up.

As we noted, the local residents’  group REACT was the force behind passage of the “Legacy Landfill” law last June. That law requires DEP to take action, including adoption of new regulations required to implement the law.

DEP finally got around to forming a “Stakeholder” group to develop those regulations to implement the law 9 months later in March 2014.

There have been significant recent changes to how DEP develops regulations.

Specifically, Gov. Christie mandated, among other things, that DEP form “Stakeholder” groups before proposing any new regulations, under Executive Order #2.

The policy objectives of the Stakeholder process are to provide “regulatory relief” and “to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.”  – here is the applicable language from EO #2:

1. For immediate relief from regulatory burdens, State agencies shall:

a. Engage in the “advance notice of rules” by soliciting the advice and views of knowledgeable persons from outside of New Jersey State government, including the private sector and academia, in advance of any rulemaking to provide valuable insights on the proposed rules, and to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has decided that his DEP “Stakeholder” meetings required under EO #2 are to be conducted “by invitation only”.

Virtually every one of dozens of DEP Stakeholder groups are dominated by regulated industries, many with no environmental or public interest representative at all – none (you can take a look for yourself here).

So, who did DEP invited to the “Legacy Landfill” law Stakeholder rule development meetings?

Sometime in March 2014, DEP wrote this invitation letter:
Dear Stakeholder,

The Department is in the process of developing rules to implement N.J.S.A. 13:1-125.1, known as the Legacy Landfill Law, enacted on June 26, 2013. The Department is re-opening the Solid Waste rules in order to implement requirements and controls established for legacy landfills and closed sanitary landfill facilities that accept the placement of new materials.
You (or a designee from your organization if you cannot attend) are invited to the stakeholder meetings. The Department welcomes your participation and insight.

There will be two non-duplicative meetings: the first will be held on March 28, 2014; the second meeting will be held on April 17, 2014. A third meeting may be added on May 2, 2014. Please be advised that these meetings will be audio-recorded and the recording will be posted on the Department’s website following the meeting. The audio-recording will serve as a summary of the meeting. These will be stakeholder meetings; therefore, the Department will not prepare a response to comments raised at these meetings. If any participants have follow-up concerns or comments that they want to make, they may be submitted in writing within two weeks of the meeting, and the Department will consider them during the rule writing process. Once the rule proposal is published, there will be opportunities for further involvement through public comment.

We would like to share with you the Department’s approach to implementing the Legacy Landfill Law and are seeking input on a number of topics: financial assurance, liability insurance, municipal involvement, and definitions affected by this legislation. Please join us.

So, I was curious – who did DEP invite?

I went to DEP’s website to find out. But there are no  attendees; agenda’s; meeting recordings/notes/minutes; technical support documents; and consensus or going forward rule development plans posted there.

Shockingly, after finding no information on the “Stakeholder” page of DEP’s website, I reached out to ask and neither the local group REACT or the law’s sponsors Chairman Bob Smith knew anything about these “by invitation only” DEP “Stakeholder” meetings.

How can something like that happen? Who did DEP invite? Landfill owners and operators? Christie Crony & Roxbury Mayor Rilee?

This is simply stunning arrogance and/or gross incompetence –

If something like this doesn’t spur legislative oversight hearings, then virtually nothing will.

BTW, to top it off, DEP’s invitation letter was sent by email, with this OPRA exemption warning:

This E-Mail and its contents may be Privileged & Confidential due to the Attorney-Client Privilege, Attorney Work Product, Deliberative Process or under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act
Just curious: this letter and process came from DEP’s “”Manager of Constituent Relations”. Wonder what it takes to get fired at DEP?

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