Green

Guest Column

Sustained, Severe Cuts Equal Setbacks at NJ Department of Environmental Protection

f25a08c5a111bc781bca_7962.jpg
f25a08c5a111bc781bca_7962.jpg

Long-term budget and staff cuts have severely impacted the ability of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to carry out critical work to protect New Jersey’s environment and residents. This has serious implications for wildlife, public health and our economy. DEP is charged with managing and protecting the State’s environment and natural resources.

This requires an adequate budget, which is a well-planned investment for our state’s future through safeguarding public goods such as clean air and clean drinking water supplies. Rebuilding the DEP should be a pressing priority for the incoming administration.

DEP funding comes from several sources, including but not limited to: the General Fund, permitting, fines, fees, leases and the federal government. The Department’s budget has not grown sufficiently to meet its needs. Additionally, influxes of federal funds directed at addressing specific issues, for example Sandy Recovery, have reduced the overall revenue coming from the state’s General Fund and have thus left critical roles unfilled.

Sign Up for E-News

These cuts impact not only protection of natural resources but also result in increased waits for permits, reduced transparency and impacted enforcement actions. Park projects are back-logged, recreation opportunities reduced, and fisheries shut-down for lack of science. Consider the following examples:

State parks: The DEP is the state’s largest manager of preserved lands, forests, and parks. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of acres of land. State parks have been forced to reduce services such as educational and interpretive programs, park police, and vital natural resource management due to the continued decline of staff and budget support. Parks in the most densely populated state in the nation—and the visitor experiences offered there—deserve better.

Fisheries: The DEP is charged with managing, preserving, and protecting more than 500 species of wildlife and fish. It’s a large task and with insufficient resources, there are consequences. In 2012, the river herring fishery was shut down in part because the state lacked the personnel or funding to collect the data to prove whether the fishery was sustainable. Proper data would enable either a well-informed closure to promote population recovery, or prohibit the needless closing of a fishery.

Permitting: Delays in processing permits have resulted in delays in cleaning up contaminated sites. Remedial Action Permits allow the DEP to evaluate the proposed and ongoing cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated brownfield sites per the Site Remediation Reform Act. These permits help to evaluate and address issues such as remaining soil and/or water contamination, and thus play an important role in protecting public health. Lack of resources for review increased average wait time for these permits - approximately 200 days.

Enforcement: Reduced staff (approximately 40 fewer inspectors from 2005 levels) carrying out enforcement actions has resulted in fewer citations and issuance of penalties and fines by nearly 50 percent. Clearly, this reduces not only a source of revenue, but also reduces deterrents for environmental violations. As one example, data from the Division of Parks and Forestry reveals that penalties collected in 2014 were half of those collected in 2009 (with various years showing fluctuating amounts, but a generally consistent downward trend).

Collectively, cuts across all divisions of the DEP has taken a real toll. However, because actions such as enforcement and permitting are often seen as revenue-generating, a disproportionate number of cuts occur on the “green side” of DEP, which includes the Divisions of Fish and Wildlife and Parks and Forestry. Within the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP), staffing has been reduced roughly 25 percent in the past seven years and the General Fund contribution has declined over those years as well.

A popular argument remains that during fiscally challenging times we simply cannot afford to invest in our wildlife. But such an investment is far from frivolous considering fish and wildlife populations in turn bring in over $100 million in state tax revenue and billions of dollars into our economy through fishing, hunting and wildlife watching. Furthermore, proactively protecting wildlife and avoiding endangered species status actually saves taxpayer dollars in the end (while preserving a significant income generating natural resource in the State).

The dire funding and staffing trends at DEP must be reversed to properly protect NJ residents and to preserve our state’s valuable natural resources. Investment must be made in revitalizing our parks, and modernization encouraged to make DEP more transparent, and predictable for those interacting with the agency. If we continue to chronically under-invest in our natural capital, the State will experience not only a decline in the many benefits these areas provide our residents, such as clean air and water and safe places to play, but also experience a significant loss of revenue in the coming years and over the long term.

 

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Rahway

Update: Health Authorities Still Investigating Flu Death of Elizabeth Schoolgirl

February 20, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - The New Jersey Department of Health is continuing to investigate the cause of the passing of Daniela Genaro who attended Nicholas LaCorte - Peterstown School No. 3 after it was confirmed that the student had been diagnosed with influenza. Officials say, it "presently remains unclear whether or not the virus was the primary contributing factor to the child's ...

Wall St. Journal Features Fanwood Mayor Mahr Among Women Reshaping NJ Politics

February 6, 2018

FANWOOD, NJ -- In an online version of a Wall Street Journal story that will appear in print on Wednesday, reporter Kate King examined the rise of women in New Jersey politics and highlighted Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr's campaign for Union County Democratic Committee (UCDC) chair. against two male candidates.

To get more women elected to state government, they need to tackle a ...

Sixteen At-risk Youth Celebrate One Year of Stability and New Beginning

February 16, 2018

Young people living within New Jersey's child welfare system face daunting odds – often moving from foster family to group home to support program yet never finding their place, sometimes traveling with their belongings in a plastic garbage bag.

"The analogy is not lost on them," said Tanya Johnson, senior assistant executive director, youth services, at the nonprofit ...

Passport Fees Set to Increase this Spring: Plan Ahead to Avoid Paying More

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi advises Union County residents that the US Department of State is raising the Passport Execution Fee from $25.00 to $35.00 on April 2. The fee is mandated by the Department of State. It applies to passport applications that are submitted to an authorized agent, including a US Post Office, County Clerk or other government office.

Passport applications submitted ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, February 22, 6:00 PM

UCEDC, Cranford

Next Level Business Planning

Business & Finance

Fri, February 23, 7:00 PM

Trinity Episcopal Day School (TEDS), Cranford

TEDS Annual Tricky Tray & 50/50 Raffle – ...

Arts & Entertainment Education Food & Drink Giving Back

Carousel_image_2d8a39c8f4543f93032f_secada_ticketing_graphic

Sat, February 24, 8:00 PM

Union County Performing Arts Center, Rahway

Jon Secada

Arts & Entertainment

Colleen Mahr Has Paid Her Dues, Earned Peoples’ Trust, and Left a Track Record of Success

February 20, 2018

As a 26-year-old Scotch Plains resident who cares more about the well-being of our town than about local politics, I am extremely disappointed that the Scotch Plains Democratic Committee leadership has decided to abandon Colleen Mahr in her run for Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee.

Mahr, who as Mayor of Fanwood for 15 years has worked closely with Scotch Plains administrations of ...