DEP commissioner lays out green agenda for business leaders

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

New Jersey’s top environmental officer promised a dogfight over clean air in a get-to-know-you speech before the Commerce and Industry Association.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe was there to promote her boss’ agenda, noting Gov. Phil Murphy joined California and 16 other states in suing EPA chief Scott Pruitt for scrapping strict national vehicle emission standards.

“We stand solidly with California and the other states in opposing that, and we will fight it tooth and nail to the last drop of our ability to do so,” McCabe said.

McCabe touted Murphy’s plan to promote clean, renewable energy, including zero emission cars, offshore wind and nuclear power. The engineers, attorneys and business leaders appreciated Murphy’s clean and green mantra, but they expressed far more interest in regulations affecting their industry, and on the budget drama gripping Trenton lawmakers.

“When I looked at all the agency budgets, I was actually surprised to see that the DEP budget is lower than last year, so one of the few agencies that actually had a little bit of a hit on the budget side,” said Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey President Anthony Russo. “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. This budget is really going to set the stage for the next four years.”

“The governor believes, as do I, that a healthy environment and a vibrant economy go together,” McCabe said.

McCabe said Murphy’s working hard on the budget, and that Jersey will once again be able to tap into an environmental fund when it rejoins RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. But the new commission is less than familiar with regulations governing natural resource damages, brownfield development, and especially, dirty soil disposal.

“She didn’t really have a good response to that right now, but I’m hoping that she’ll be able to work with us and her Department of Solid Waste to figure out how to sort out those details,” said Tracy Straka, vice president of Creamer Environmental.

An investigation by the State Commission of Investigations last year showed unregulated soil brokers dumping toxic waste from the Bronx along beaches in Middlesex County. Legitimate recyclers expressed concern over pending legislation.

“That they don’t stray to people who don’t work in that area. If you’re concerned about soil, focus on soil. Just regulate the soil brokers who are completely unregulated at this point in time,” said Gary Sondermeyer, vice president of operations for Bayshore Recycling.

“The environment goes hand in hand with redevelopment and cleanup,” said Agnes Antonian, chair of the environmental law group at Connell Foley. “So budget’s important, funding’s important. Getting these programs off the ground is critical.”

The business community’s looking for significant input from the DEP. Money talks in environmental cleanup, but when it comes to budget, the commissioner’s hands are tied.