Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Watchdog Report Finds Dep Making Fewer Site Visits

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Watchdog Report Finds Dep Making Fewer Site Visits

Article excerpt

The state's environmental protection agency has vastly cut back its policing of industrial and other polluters in recent years, raising the likelihood that companies will be less compliant with environmental laws, according to a report issued Wednesday by an environmental group.

The number of site inspections made by the state Department of Environmental Protection fell from more than 60,000 in the 2011 fiscal year to fewer than 12,000 in 2014, a drop of 80 percent, according to the New Jersey Sierra Club, which used data posted on the DEP website and records it received through an open-records request.

The environmental group's report also indicates that the number of enforcement actions by the DEP dropped by 56 percent between 2011 and 2014, to 8,107.

"The DEP is the environmental cop on the beat, and when people know no one is looking, they are less likely to report a spill or clean it up because they know they're not going to get caught," said Jeff Tittel, the New Jersey Sierra Club's director. "More enforcement generates more compliance, and there's been a serious drop under this administration. They're creating a polluters' holiday."

The state DEP countered that the decrease was due in large part to a shift in focus and to the fact that the state's regulated community largely understands its obligations under state environmental laws and abides by the rules.

"It's not just about enforcement or fines, it's about compliance, and more businesses get it, so we see fewer enforcement actions," said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. "The cop is still out on the beat, still doing the job, but we're more focused. We are focusing attention on the most significant enforcement cases. We know who the good actors are and we will return repeatedly to the ones not behaving.

Tittel, however, said that if compliance were improving, the state's annual number of chemical spills would be dropping -- but it isn't. …

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