Feds warn NJ rule changes could hurt water quality

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     The Mullica River runs through South Jersey. (Mullica River 5 licensed under Creative Commons via WikiMedia)

    The Mullica River runs through South Jersey. (Mullica River 5 licensed under Creative Commons via WikiMedia)

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that regulatory changes proposed by New Jersey could hurt the state’s purest waters.

    U.S. authorities are concerned that tweaks to rules governing stormwater, flood zones and coastal areas will allow development and stormwater discharges in previously protected buffer zones on stream and riverbanks in the Garden State.

    That could hurt water quality enough to break compliance with state and federal standards, the EPA wrote in a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

    John Miller, a water resources engineer from the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management, said the federal input on the issue is unusual.

    “This is the first time I’ve seen the EPA submit a comment letter to a state rule proposal,” Miller said. “How the state will address that, it remains to be seen, but it is of great interest to see how the state responds.”

    The DEP is reviewing public comments on the rule and will respond to the EPA as part of that process, according to spokesman Larry Hajna.

    He said the intent of the rule tweaks, which include changes to coastal zone management rules, stormwater management rules and the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules, are intended to make it easier to get permits for projects such as building a deck on an existing home near a waterway.

    “We’ve been going through a lot of our rules and regulations for the past four or five years now to try to reduce redundancies and streamline and make things a little bit simpler,” Hajna said.

    The rule changes, issued in June, have been criticized by environmental groups. They see the streamlining as an attempt to unravel protections in a state that continues to struggle to meet federal water-quality standards.

    Hajna said a final rule should be published around the end of the year.

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