There are few environmental laws that have resulted in both enhanced environmental protection and increased economic growth. The Site Remediation Reform Act, or SRRA, is one such law.
Sponsored by Senator Bob Smith (D-18) and signed into law in 2009 by Gov. Jon Corzine, SRRA made fundamental changes in how contaminated sites are cleaned up and redeveloped. Property owners and dischargers are required to clean up sites within prescribed time limits, and given the flexibility to meet expedited timeframes.
This flexibility is in the form of newly created licensed site remediation professionals. LSRPs are highly trained professionals in the field of site remediation. They are required to have certain educational backgrounds, complete required courses, pass a test, take continuing education, and are subject to ethical and professional requirements established by a licensing board. The use of LSRPs is required for most contaminated site cleanups.
SRRA provides that DEP set the cleanup standards and requirements, but the LSRPs can act independently and exercise their professional judgment without the need for constant DEP oversight and control. This makes sense since LSRPs are the most qualified professionals in their field. DEP would still issue approvals and could audit LSRP actions, but the crux of the law is to allow for the expeditious cleanup of sites by removing DEP command and control oversight and replacing it with LSRP professional judgment. Sites get cleaned up faster, at a lower cost, and are redeveloped sooner.
SRRA has worked better than expected. Over 13 years, nearly 60,000 cases were closed. A large percentage of these sites were redeveloped, putting people back to work, and growing economic opportunities. By cleaning up these sites, the environment was restored, water protected, and public health secured. SRRA is the very definition of a win-win and should be the model for other environmental programs.
Despite these successes, there are concerns the DEP is slipping back into its historic command and control ways of late. LSRPs are seeing more of their work second-guessed by DEP staff. LSRPs are increasingly being forced to provide unnecessary justifications for their professional judgments, even when there is no indication that public health has been jeopardized.
The statistics and audits prove the LSRP program is working. The bureaucracy, however, seems to be having difficulty letting go and allowing trained private-sector professionals to do their job. If this trend is not reversed, we will be back where we were before SRRA, with a slow cleanup process that serves neither the public nor the economy.
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