Sen. Greenstein on Why Not to Revise the Flood Hazard Area Control Act

Major changes to water regulations. The Department of Environmental Protection says its proposal is part of the Christie Administration’s “ongoing effort to add common sense to overly burdensome state rules and regulations.” But major opposition is aligning: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and New Jersey’s League of Municipalities argue it would weaken water quality standards. A bill in the Senate would reverse the rule changes. One of it’s co-sponsors, Senator Linda Greenstein, spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams about the specifics.

She says the Department of Environmental Protection shouldn’t revise the Flood Hazard Area Control Act because, “What they will be doing is weakening the protections that we’ve worked so hard for for so many years. Whether it’s the fish in the sea, whether it’s the water quality, whether it’s flood control, all of these aspects of water will be revised as a result of what the DEP wants to do and we want to stop it.”

The DEP’s Raymond Cantor said, “We’re not eliminating headwater protections. It will not allow more flooding or lead to more pollution entering the state’s waterways.” Greenstein says they just don’t agree, and that the plan would leave the state more susceptible to flooding. “We do think that the headwaters would be affected, that’s the place where the streams begin,” she said. “There were even some comments from somebody from the New Jersey Builders Association that really said the opposite of what Cantor was saying. They said yes, the buffers around the streams would definitely be affected.”

Cantor also said that this “proposal will change nothing” for buffer zones for waterways. Greenstein says if we don’t have the proper buffering the waterways are affected and of course flood control is affected. “You have growth of vegetation, you have building too close to the water and all of those would have a tremendous effect on the quality of our water and on flood control,” she said.

The state DEP met with state officials in order to quell the EPA’s initial concerns. When asked if she’s satisfied with the information they provided at the hearing, Greenstein said no. “The U.S. EPA has strong concerns. I know that the Deputy Commissioner Cantor said he thought those were alleviated, and he provided an article in a magazine,” she said. “but I know that Chairman Smith said, well get us a letter that tells us that the EPA’s fears are alleviated, and Cantor said he would try to get that. So at the moment that issue is up in the air.”

Builders and business groups have argued that the bill would streamline an extremely cumbersome regulatory process without relaxing water quality standards. “I know that’s the position that they’re taking, but we did get that admission during the hearing by a high level official at the Builders Association that the stream buffers would be affected,” Greenstein said. “So indeed, many of the concerns of the opponents of these regulations certainly have some, I hate to say it, wholesome water, and need to be taken very seriously.”

She says the state DEP made the changes in the first place due to a push from the administration to simplify regulations, particularly in the environmental area. “Unfortunately, environmental protections can’t always be simplified,” she said. “We need to take them very seriously, and certainly when it comes to climate change, which is also affected by this bill and so many others. We need to take it as among the most serious issue we have to deal with. The administration feels that just by simplifying, allowing building, everything is going to fall together and water won’t be affected.