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New Jersey Environmental Waiver Rule Challenged by 27 Groups

March 22 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s new rule that lets the state waive environmental regulations on a case-by-case basis was challenged by 27 groups that claim it creates damaging loopholes for developers and polluters.

The New Jersey Sierra Club and others today appealed a rule signed March 6 by Bob Martin, Christie’s environmental commissioner. Martin said regulators will apply “commonsense principles” for waiving compliance, and the rule “provides us with a modest measure of flexibility to manage special circumstances.”

In signing the rule, which takes effect April 2, Martin likened it to the variance process in municipal zoning. The Sierra Club called the rule an “abuse of power” and challenged it in the Superior Court’s Appellate Division in Trenton.

“This is one of the worst rules ever adopted in New Jersey and is the broadest attack on environmental protections in 40 years,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said at a news conference in Trenton, the state capital. “This rule is a giveaway to special interests.”

Christie, a first-term Republican who considered running for president, pushed the rule to “sell off New Jersey’s environment to polluters and developers,” Tittel said.

‘Let Them Sue’

When asked two days ago about a possible appeal, Christie said: “Let them sue me.” He said the waiver process will be responsibly used and will make New Jersey friendlier to business.

The waiver rule is “modest and limited in scope and application, not at all the giant loophole as described breathlessly by Jeff Tittel and others,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail today.

“It’s just common sense and intended to benefit on a limited basis everyone from small business owners, non-profits, farmers and average New Jerseyans,” he said. “It is also entirely within the authority of the governor to implement. We are confident it will be upheld.”

Lawrence Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, defended the intent of the change.

“This is aimed at the average guy in New Jersey,” Ragonese said. “Governor Christie wants government to work better and cut through the bureaucracy.”

Waiver Criteria

To qualify for a waiver, an applicant must meet one of four criteria: that a public emergency has been declared; that conflicting rules adversely affect a project; that a net environmental benefit would be achieved; and that an undue hardship would be imposed by a regulation.

The DEP will post all waiver applications, and the agency’s actions, on its website, Ragonese said. The agency won’t accept applications until Aug. 1, he said.

The environmental and labor groups challenging the rule include the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, the New Jersey Audubon Society, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Communications Workers of America, Teamsters 877 and United Steelworkers District Four.

The rule “will pollute the water we drink and the air we breathe, it will subject communities to increased flooding and pollution, it will destroy jobs dependent upon healthy environments and compromise worker health,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, in a statement.

The case is In re Rule 7:1B-1.1 et seq., New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division (Trenton).

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in Newark at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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