ENVIRONMENT

Commissioner Discusses DEP’s Current Actions on Fracking, Green Energy, Passaic River Cleanup

New Jersey has several ongoing environmental issues that Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin discussed with NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desiree Taylor, giving updates about fracking, alternative energy, public access to bodies of water and the cleanup of the Passaic River.

Martin said New Jersey is taking action to prevent fracking as a way to protect the water in the state. “When 25 percent of the drinking water in the state of New Jersey comes from the Delaware River and the governor said we’re going to put in whatever regulations necessary or require states like New York or Pennsylvania to make sure that their regulations are tight enough to protect that water that New Jersey has over the long haul so that we make sure that that water’s not contaminated,” he said.

The DEP is working with the Board of Public Utilities under the governor’s energy master plan, which focuses on solar energy, to expand its use throughout the state. Martin said the DEP is also working to increase the use of offshore wind energy. “Offshore wind still provides an incredible opportunity for the state of New Jersey to build offshore wind terminals that build a whole new industry here,” he said. “We see it as an opportunity for the state to have both green jobs and a better environment.”

Federal subsidies for programs like solar energy are being phased out, according to Martin. “What we’re doing in the state of New Jersey, the new legislation that just passed will provide more of the, not subsidies, but SRECs [Solar Renewable Energy Certificates] as we call them. And those SRECs will allow the price to go up and help cover the cost of those long term,” he said. “So the state of New Jersey’s taking steps to make sure that industry — that our leadership in the country just behind California — continues on going forward.”

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Public access to state waterways has been controversial with some opposing changes. Martin said the DEP has proposed new rules and regulations to allow for greater public access. In the past the state Supreme Court has struck down certain provisions. Now the DEP wants each municipality with access to the ocean to create a master plan for public access.

“So it’s no longer this one-size-fits-all for each of these towns. Each town can design how they want to have public access, where they’re going to allow for bathrooms, where they’re going to allow for parking. We already had 53 towns come forward with draft plans already,” Martin said. “It’s already working, even before regulations are in place. Towns want to create great public access and we found a better way to do it.”

While 37 environmental, fishing and surfing groups had been opposed to the changes, Martin said many have changed their minds because they have realized the DEP just wants to increase public access. He said the majority of mayors are also on board.

The cleanup of the Passaic River has been ongoing and Martin said phase one of the project is taking place, with 100,000 cubic yards of material being removed. He added that there is still a lot of cleaning to be done to complete the project, and that the Environmental Protection Agency must get the DEP the plan of action.

“We’re still waiting for the plan from the federal government. The EPA has been working on it for four years. They’re way behind schedule getting it done,” Martin said. “That’s the plan that will lay out how we clean up the entire lower eight miles of the river. We’re still waiting for that and we continue to work with them on it, but the EPA needs to step it up and get it done.”