Senate approves Lesniak legislation to reverse Republican water rules

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

The Senate today passed a measure that environmentalists say would stop the Republican administration’s assault on water and flood protections and override these dangerous flood hazard rules.

A Senate resolution sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak and Senator Bob Smith that would nullify Governor Chris Christie’s proposed regulations to permit development in near protected streams and waterways, was approved by the state Senate today.

Christie administration officials moved to weaken water quality regulations with rules that would expose New Jersey’s waterways to more contaminants, threaten fish habitats and increase the risk of flooding.

The concurrent resolution, SCR-180, that would reverse the changes the state Department of Environmental Protection wants to make to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act regulations.

“The Christie administration’s proposed regulations to permit development in close proximity to protected streams and waterways will increase flooding in dozens of communities throughout the state and degrade water quality,” said Lesniak. “The proposed regulations will have a greater impact on the quality of life of New Jersey residents than the governor’s settlement with ExxonMobil. They are that bad. “

Majority votes in both houses of the Legislature could force the DEP to withdraw the proposed rule changes. A similar resolution will be introduced in the Assembly at its next session, Lesniak said.

Christie’s proposed development regulations would increase flooding in dozens of communities throughout the state and degrade water quality, according to Lesniak and numerous environmental leaders.

The resolution must be passed by a majority vote in both houses to nullify the proposed regulations and Christie does not have veto power over it.

“Weakening protections against flooding is irresponsible,” said Lesniak. “It must be stopped.”

“Today the Senate stood up for clean water and against the Christie Administration’s attacks on clean water,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is a victory for clean water and this resolution will go a long way to help protect us from flooding and protect our important waterways. We want to thank the Senate for passing this resolution today.”

This is the first step to block these rules from taking place and to help protect environment and our drinking water. In order to overturn these rules, the resolution must next pass the Assembly.

Once it passes both houses, the Department of Environmental Protection will have 30 days to comment to either withdraw the flood hazard rules or continue with them.

If they continue with them, then lawmakers may again pass the resolution through both houses in order to void the rules.

“The Senate did the right thing by voting to block these rules,” said Tittel. “These rules are a danger to clean water because they will eliminate buffers and other protections against pollution.”

Tittel said the rules would put water and homes in danger by eliminating buffers and critical headwater protections for streams and Special Water Protection Areas (SWPA).

Allowing closer development will mean more pollution getting in waterways and contaminating drinking water.

“The Senate has helped to protect New Jersey from these dangerous rules. These rules will cause more flooding and loss of open space. They put more people and property in harm’s way by reducing buffers and other efforts that reduce flooding. These rules are a major rollback of protections of our waterways and should be voided,” said Tittel. “Today we saw the Senate stand up to the Christie administration’s efforts to roll back drinking water and flooding protections in New Jersey.”

The rules are supposed to promote the general welfare of the citizens of New Jersey by protecting us from flooding. However, by adding loopholes and weakening protections Christie will be putting more people at risk, according to Tittel, who believes the rules also violate multiple federal, state and local regulations.

“These rules violate legislative intent and need to be overturned. We believe that these rules violate the New Jersey Clean Water Act, New Jersey Pollution Control Act and Water Quality Planning Act, as well as violate the separation of powers between DEP National Resource and Conservation. They violate the TMDL river clean-up process, the Municipal Stormwater Rules, and the anti-degradation criteria in our laws,” said Tittel, “These rules are dangerous and damaging to the environment and even EPA and FEMA have sent letters in opposition to them. Now the Senate has joined us in our effort to override them.”

“Today we heard the Senate say loud and clear that they want to protect New Jersey from flooding and protect our drinking water. They passed SCR180 and now we need the Assembly to do the same to void these rules that violate legislative intent,” said Tittel. “These rules will not protect anyone; they will make flooding worse and risk our clean water. We are thankful to the Senate for standing up to them by passing this resolution and are counting on the Assembly to do the same.”

“The proposed rules reverse the stewardship of former environmental commissioners Brad Campbell and Lisa Jackson, who both worked to preserve New Jersey’s streams and water supply,” said Smith.
The rule changes would weaken stream buffer requirements which help maintain the natural, vegetative buffers protecting waterways from pollutants and people from flooding, Lesniak said. And, in a state that has seen 22 major floods in recent years, we can’t allow irresponsible actions that increase the threat of destructive flooding, Lesniak said.

The proposed administrative rule changes were issued June 1, 2015. The resolution, once approved, would give DEP 30 days to withdraw or revise the proposals. If the administration fails to respond appropriately, the Legislature can pass another concurrent resolution to completely invalidate the regulations, in whole or in part.

“The administration is violating the intent of the Legislature that is already written into existing environmental laws,” said Lesniak. “They are trying to do an end run with unilateral administrative actions.”



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