DEP Responds: Goal Is A Cleaner Environment, Not More Fines

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The New Jersey Sierra Club was disappointed this week following revelations that penalties against polluters dropped by 54 percent last budget year compared with four years earlier.

Data released recently showed enforcement actions against pollution offenders dropped from 29,579 in budget year 2008 to 13,555 in budget year 2012, according to an report.

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New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the drop likely means an increase in pollution.

“When enforcement is weak, then there ends up being more pollution – one, because there is pollution either going unreported or unfixed, and even more important, it sends a message to polluters that you can get away with avoiding or breaking environmental laws because you may not get caught – or if you get caught, you get a slap on the wrist,” Tittel said.

Tittel said given that the number of inspections have remained stable, it does not make sense that violations would have dropped so much.

He added that he believes the drop is evidence that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is showing leniency toward polluters.

“What it shows is a department that is taking the side of the polluters over the public; that what they say is targeted – well, show me the data; show me the paperwork; show me how many of those violations that are out there got fixed,” he said.

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But DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the Sierra Club is mistaken, and the department is not going easy on polluters at all.

“They’re caught in an old model of how to do things in government,” he said. “We’re transforming how the Department of Environmental Protection works in New Jersey. We are more effectively and efficiently targeting offenders, and the goal of getting more compliance and resolving problems quickly.”

He also disputed claims that the department is protecting polluters for political reasons.

“Jeff Tittel has some kind of political agenda of his own, apparently,” Ragonese said. “What we’re doing here is we are making progress in improving the environment in New Jersey. The results are cleaner air, cleaner water – fewer contaminated sites. That’s the goal. The goal is not the number of violations; the number of fines.”

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