28-group coalition sues to stop N.J. environmental waiver rule

Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie adopted a plan to allow the state’s Department of Environmental Resources to waive environmental regulations on a case-by-case basis. On Thursday, 28 advocacy groups met in Trenton to launch a legal challenge to the measure.

If state officials deem an environmental provision to be “too burdensome” to a business, the new rule allows the DEP to waive that requirement But just what counts as “too burdensome” hasn’t been clearly defined.

Opponents of the rule say that lack of definition could undo decades of environmental preservation

“If you are a developer who wants to build something and you think it would be too burdensome to comply with all of the cleanup rules for hazardous sites, the department could choose to waive that rule, putting everyone else in the area at risk,” said Columbia University’s Susan Kraham, the senior attorney representing the environmental and labor groups that have filed the injunction.

Christie has said such fears are overblown.

“The idea that somehow I would want a less clean environment is silly,” he said. “But I also want a state where we continue to have economic growth and economic opportunity for all of our citizens.”

Kraham said she fears the waiver rule will lead to more political corruption.

“Because there’s no specific provisions about when someone can be granted a waiver, there’s a real concern about politics playing a role here, and a new version of ‘pay to play’ emerging,” she said.

The waiver rule isn’t slated to go into effect until August.

Advocates hope their legal appeal will void the measure long before that.

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