Posted on January 16, 2013 by William L. Warren
The concept of a “Waiver Rule” to be promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP” or “Department”) created both excitement within the New Jersey regulated community and consternation among environmental groups. Business and development interests saw a Waiver Rule as a long overdue attempt by NJDEP to bring some flexibility into the State’s environmental regulatory experience. Environmentalists were convinced the Waiver Rule concept would open the door for polluters and greedy developers to complete an end run around New Jersey’s complex environmental statutory and regulatory scheme. A coalition of environmental and conservation groups initiated litigation challenging the adoption of the Waiver Rule. The environmentalists argued their case against the validity of the Waiver Rule before a three-judge appellate panel on January 14. In response to this argument, representatives of the business community told the court that a common sense approach to environmental regulation in New Jersey, as embodied in the Waiver Rule, is needed to spur economic development. It is likely this issue will end up before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The Waiver Rule, N.J.A.C. 7:1B, became reality in response to Governor Chris Christie’s Executive Order No. 2, which attempted to instill “common sense principles” into the governing of New Jersey. Executive Order No. 2 and the Waiver Rule promised a better environmental regulatory climate to improve the State’s economy.
Will the Waiver Rule, effective as of August 1, 2012, actually make a difference? In its first five months, the Waiver Rule does not yet seem worthy of the regulated community’s early enthusiasm or the trepidation of the environmental groups. To date, NJDEP has still not approved a waiver under the Waiver Rule and, according to NJDEP’s Office of Permit Coordination & Environmental Review, only fourteen waiver applications have been accepted for review by NJDEP since August 1st.
NJDEP’s philosophy on the implementation of the Waiver Rule may well be embodied in N.J.A.C. 7:1B-1.1(b) which states: “[i]t is not the purpose of this chapter to allow for the routine circumvention of any Department rule.” The NJDEP guidance makes clear that application of the Waiver Rule will be limited. Only NJDEP (and not any Licensed Site Remediation Professional) is allowed to grant a waiver under the Waiver Rule. Will NJDEP ever get to “yes” on a waiver application? Time will tell.