A newly enacted New Jersey law updates the state’s system for cleaning up polluted sites—and more changes may be in the works in the next legislative session.
The law, passed by legislators in late June and signed Aug. 23 by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), makes the first major changes in a decade to the state’s Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA). The new law is also known as SRRA 2.0.
Sponsors said the bill (S-3862/A-5293) is intended to build on experience implementing the original 2009 law, streamlining a process that has resulted in significant new site remediation efforts statewide. New Jersey has more contaminated sites than any other state—including 114 in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s federal Superfund program—underscoring the importance of the work to future land use.
“Updating this law will allow for more sites to be remediated at a more efficient rate,” state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D), vice-chair of the state Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said in a statement when the bill passed the legislature.
The changes stem from two years of discussion among interested groups about the law’s workings.
“You really don’t know a law until you’ve lived with it for a while,” Ray Cantor, vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said in an Aug. 29 interview. “Cleaning up a site involves a lot of detailed procedures. The new law fixes a lot of little things, and those add up to good process improvements.”
Another Look Next Year?
More changes may be in store in the next legislative session. The new bill represented an effort by organizations active in cleanups to tackle consensus items first and hold the “more contentious and more difficult issues” for later, he said. The association will be working with the business community to identify areas for wider reforms, Cantor said.
The legislature will begin a new term in January, after elections this November.
But Michael Novak, president of Atlantic Environmental Solutions Inc. in Hoboken, N.J., said he doesn’t expect further changes to the law at that point, “in either direction, whether you’d call it business-friendly or environment-friendly.”
The new law was thoroughly discussed among interested groups and represents the best approach to “protecting the environment without being onerous to the regulated community,” said Novak, a longtime remediation consultant who participated in the discussions leading up to the bill’s passage.
The law didn’t attempt a wholesale revision to the program but just refined several provisions, with almost all the changes concerned with housekeeping matters or clarifying language, Novak said.
Among the process changes that will improve and speed cleanups are provisions clarifying the reporting responsibilities of licensed site remediation professionals (LSRPs), he said; Novak’s organization was one of the first LSRPs certified under the state program.
Any remediation project might have several such professionals working on a site, but before the new law, it wasn’t clear how one of them would report contamination found at a part of the site handled by another one. The new law clarifies the responsibilities of these professionals to report contamination to the person responsible for the cleanup and to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
SRRA 2.0 doesn’t have major statutory amendments, but does offer “some benefits to the public and the development community,” said Jeffrey W. Cappola, a shareholder with the law firm Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer P.A. in Woodbridge, N.J., who lectures on site remediation and has served on several state regulatory committees.
One such benefits is that the person responsible for the cleanup is required to give the municipality and county health department notice before a remedial investigation begins, which allows for more transparency, Cappola said in an Aug. 29 email. And the responsible person must respond in writing to public inquiries regarding the environmental condition of a site, he said.
Redevelopers Support, Activists Sour
“I think the best news for redevelopers is that the amendments do not seriously undercut any of the major provisions of the LSRP program,” said Bruce S. Katcher of the Cherry Hill, N.J., law firm Manko Gold Katcher & Fox LLP.
The LSRP program has sped up environmentally protective remediation projects by eliminating significant delays that marked a previous program, overseen by state case managers, Katcher said in an Aug. 29 email. The new law keeps the LSRP program intact and ensures it will continue to operate effectively, he said.
“Continuity breeds certainty, which is something of tremendous importance to developers as well as lenders and insurance companies—the latter two of which are also important players in the redevelopment process,” he added.
The public and the environment will benefit from a new section of the law that encourages green and sustainable practices in cleanups, said Geri L. Albin, counsel at the law firm Saiber LLC in Florham Park, N.J., in an Aug. 29 email.
“This could be the start to additional incentives,” she said.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the new law gives private consultants more authority, and undermines transparency and oversight.
“Our concerns with the original law have been magnified by these amendments,” he said in an Aug. 29 interview. He called the bill “a sellout to polluters and developers,” arguing that it will protect private contractors from being held responsible for accidents, spills, or mistakes.
The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
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