NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin Discusses Extreme Weather and Environmental Issues

NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin Discusses Extreme Weather and Environmental Issues

COMMERCE RECENTLY SAT DOWN with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Commissioner Bob Martin to discuss extreme weather events; flooding and combined sewer overflows; New Jersey’s Superfund and brownfield sites; the state’s Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) program; working
with the business community; and protecting the environment. Here are his insights, thoughts and observations.

COMMERCE: How is the NJDEP helping municipalities and businesses prepare for extreme weather events?

BOB MARTIN: The best way to prepare for these events is through sound planning and by becoming more resilient. This requires long-term capital investment and prudent asset management, as well as strong communications with stakeholders. For example, we work with businesses—particularly those that provide such critical services as drinking water and wastewater treatment—to make them aware of a coming storm
event. The key lesson learned from Superstorm Sandy was the need to become more resilient to storms.

Q. What progress has been made, post-Sandy, in making the Garden State more resilient and prepared for future superstorms?

A. New Jersey is building beaches and dunes that can absorb the impact of storm surge. In cooperation with the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (NJEIT), the NJDEP has also supported the recovery of the state’s water and waste water infrastructure and is working to make sure it is better protected in future storms.

Q. How about financial assistance for impacted communities and municipalities?

A. To reduce the financial stress on impacted communities, we created the Statewide Assistance Infrastructure Loan Program (SAIL) with the NJEIT to provide immediate emergency financing to facilities that had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy. SAIL is currently facilitating eight rebuild and resiliency projects totaling $174 million. Through our Office of Local Government Assistance, NJDEP has provided $50 million in federal
funding for projects to reduce local flood risks and improve resiliency.

Q. Flooding and rising sea levels are a growing issue for New Jersey. How is NJDEP responding to this threat to lives and property?

A. As a coastal state, rising sea levels are an obvious concern to New Jersey.
Our comprehensive engineered coastal protection system, which we have worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build, is already providing significant protection to homes, business, and infrastructure at risk along New Jersey’s 127-mile-long coastline.

To date, $1.24 billion in federal funds has been invested in toward beach and dune construction and other such flood control projects to promote shoreline resiliency. When it is completed, it will be the first time in New Jersey history that such a system exists.

In addition, $300 million has been committed to move homeowners in flood-prone areas out of harm’s way. Through our Blue Acres program, the NJDEP has purchased, at pre-storm market value, 600 homes that have suffered repetitive flooding. This program has
given hundreds of families a viable alternative to living with the constant threat of flooding and all the cost and heartache this entails. Once purchased, the homes are demolished and the land is preserved as open space that helps provide neighborhoods with buffers to flood waters.

Q. What is the NJDEP’s response to combined sewer overflows?

A. The Christie administration is the first to take meaningful steps toward addressing the state’s longtime problem of combined sewer overflows. We developed a new combined sewer overflow permit program that requires communities with combined sewer systems to development long-term plans toward eliminating the remaining 210 combined sewer outfalls in the state.

Solving this decades-old challenge will require long-term capital investment in new infrastructure. But some of the problem can also be addressed in the near term by creating green infrastructure to reduce storm water that gets into combined sewer systems, causing overflows.

The NJDEP is working with its permittees at every step of the process by providing
compliance and technical assistance, as well as by providing incentives to help them with plan development and infrastructure investments.

Q. What is the status of brownfield and Superfund sites in New Jersey today?

A. Through the Brownfields Development Area program and Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund, the NJDEP has provided more than $70 million in grants for more
than 275 projects since 2010. Through our partnerships with businesses, municipalities and others, we have turned many of these sites back into economically valuable properties once again. The NJDEP continues to work closely with the USEPA to ensure that New Jersey’s Superfund sites are cleaned up and that every effort is made to
ensure responsible parties are held accountable for paying for the work.

Q. How would you assess New Jersey’s LSRP program, as it is an integral part of the cleanup of the state’s contaminated sites?
A. The Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) program is an outstanding example of the NJDEP’s success at being innovative and transforming the way we carry out our mission. Since the start of this program, the pace and progress of remedial investigations have picked up markedly. Responsible parties have clear goals and understand our expectations for thorough and timely cleanups. Today, we have some 14,300 active contaminated sites, down from 20,000 prior to the passage of the Site
Remediation Reform Act.

Q. But do these numbers tell the whole story, when it comes to contaminated
site cleanups in the Garden State?

A.The number of contaminated sites—including many underground storage tank cases—is always fluctuating, as sites enter or are removed from the state’s Known Contaminated Site List. In fact, some 25,000 sites have been successfully processed through the Site Remediation Program, thanks to our new efficiencies. The LSRP program has made a difference in communities across the state, protecting public health, natural resources and creating opportunities for redevelopment and jobs.

Q. How is the NJDEP working with the business community?

A. Our commitment to reducing regulatory burdens, transforming the NJDEP and improved customer service have enabled us to develop an excellent working relationship with New Jersey’s businesses, as well as our counties, municipalities, residents and all stakeholders. In fact, the input of business leaders has helped the NJDEP identify ways to protect the environment, while encouraging economic growth.

One of the ways we have done this is by creating an Office of Permit Coordination and an Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution. These offices have provided countless businesses and thers with assistance in navigating our permit processes and resolving disputes, helping applicants save time and avoid unnecessary costs.

Throughout my time at the NJDEP, I have emphasized the importance of customer service. To put it simply, good customer service means providing everyone who interfaces with the NJDEP prompt and clear answers to their questions and specific guidance in meeting our laws and regulations. We have developed a work environment that is committed to working through issues until they are resolved.

Q. How is New Jersey doing in one of its key metrics—protecting air quality, clean water and natural resources?

A. Our air quality is better now than it was eight years ago. The number of ozone-smog exceedance days in New Jersey has been declining over the past eight years, continuing a long-term trend. Our efforts to encourage cleaner fuels in power generation have produced excellent results. Today, New Jersey has one of the cleanest power-generation sectors in the country, due to the use of both nuclear power and natural gas.
Our water quality continues to improve, as well. The NJDEP’s focus on restoring New Jersey’s waterways and maintaining a rigorous water quality monitoring program, is producing significant progress.

In 2016, 99.5 percent of New Jersey’s public water supply systems complied with the state’s regulations for safe drinking water. And New Jersey’s coastal waters are among the cleanest in the nation, which is why our beaches are open for recreational use an average of 99.9 percent of the time during the beach season. It is also important to note that DEP’s Water Supply Plan found that our state has sufficient water available to meet the demand in the foreseeable future if we continue to pursue environmentally responsible policies and practices.

During this administration, New Jersey acquired 47,000 acres of land through the Green Acres Program and opened the first state park in Gloucester County, Tall Pines State Park, bringing our total number of state parks and forests to 40. In total, the NJDEP manages 800,000 acres of parks, wildlife management areas, and other natural areas across the state for the benefit of the environment and the enjoyment of the people of our state and its many visitors.

New Jersey’s natural resources are among our greatest assets. By preserving open space and protecting the state’s fish and wildlife, we are ensuring that future generations can enjoy New Jersey’s extraordinary diversity of natural resources for years to come.

Q. How can the NJDEP and New Jersey learn from other states or countries?

A. On the first Earth Day in 1970, New Jersey became just the third state in the nation to establish a department devoted to protecting the environment, so other states often look to us for best practices and policies.

For example, the DEP recently proposed stringent drinking-water standards for two chemical compounds for which there is no federal drinking-water standard— perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (1,2,3-TCP). Upon adoption of the standards, New Jersey will be the first state in the nation with a drinking-water standard for PFNA and the third with a standard for 1,2,3-TCP.

New Jersey is also proud to be the first state to require mandatory recycling. But we cannot be complacent. Though much better than the national average and most other states, New Jersey’s municipal solid waste recycling rate needs to improve. We are exploring innovative strategies to boost these rates.

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