Back Is No Way To Our Environmental Future

by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

“Back to the Future” introduced a generation of moviegoers to the art of travelling to the past to change the future. In New Jersey, our environmental protection programs are facing just such a temporal paradox – an unprecedented attempt to roll back to “the bad old days” regardless of the dire consequences for the future.

More than 25 environmental groups took their case to Trenton on June 20 to ask our elected officials to protect the health, safety and environment of this state we’re in.


Here are a few of the messages from New Jersey Environmental Action Day:

Keep our standards high – Stop proposed legislation that would prohibit state agencies from having regulations stronger than federal standards. Under these ill-advised bills, health standards for drinking water, for example, would rely less on science and more on politics and lobbyists. New Jersey has had a stellar history of establishing environmental standards and practices that protect public health and safety. And New Jersey is unique. It is the most densely populated state in the nation, and has the highest number of hazardous sites. Broad federal standards often aren’t safe enough for the Garden State.

Drop the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed “Waiver Rule” – In March, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection proposed a rule that would allow the waiver of over 100 environmental regulations on a case-by-case basis. Though the rule obviously sets the stage for undermining fundamental environmental protections, many of which were established by law, it also creates an uneven playing field that favors large corporations with pockets deep enough to afford the expense of getting a waiver. The Department of Environmental Protection should drop the rule and get back to protecting our environment.

Keep New Jersey in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – Governor Christie says he wants New Jersey out of RGGI because he feels it’s a tax on business. This is misleading; ratepayers should not expect to see lower energy bills if the state pulls out. RGGI is an effective program that cuts air pollution, creates jobs and provides millions of dollars for investment in renewable energy projects that will make energy cheaper – and our state more attractive to business.

Don’t delay Water Quality Management Plans – Since time immemorial, it seems, New Jersey has delayed implementing plans to keep new sewer and septic systems out of environmentally sensitive areas, prevent flooding, and maintain water quality. Bills to continue these delays jeopardize drinking water quality and federal funding for water projects. The delay is now 17 years and counting; enough is enough!

Say “No!” to fracking in the Delaware River Basin – Contrary to claims made by smiling geologists in recent TV commercials, it takes quite a bit more than “an idea” to harvest natural gas trapped in underground rock, like shale in the Upper Delaware River Basin. The rock must be pulverized with high-pressure jets of water and chemicals shot down bore holes. It produces a soup so toxic that it’s not fully cleansed by traditional water filtration methods before it’s dumped into waterways. This hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short) is woefully under-regulated at the federal and state levels. It should be banned in New Jersey, and the state should fight to see it banned on the Pennsylvania and New York banks of the Delaware River until further studies are conducted.

Many environmental rollbacks are being pursued in the name of making New Jersey more “business friendly.” But even the corporate-friendly reporting system used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that only three out of every 1,000 “large-scale” layoffs (50 or more employees) are attributed to “government regulations/intervention.” And repeated studies show that compliance with environmental safeguards costs U.S. industry on average less than 1 percent of the total value of their products.

This isn’t the movies. If we roll back environmental, health and safety regulations, Marty McFly will not swoop down in a time-travelling DeLorean to undo the damage. It’s up to all of us to stand up and tell New Jersey’s policy makers that we can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. New Jersey’s economy, quality of life – and, indeed, its future – depend on a clean environment.

Please urge your legislators to stand up for New Jersey’s environment! To find your legislators, go to .

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at

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