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NJDEP Expands Blue Acres Program to LindenNovember 5, 2015

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner (“NJDEP”) Bob Martin announced last week that the Superstorm Sandy Blue Acres Buyout Program would be buying three homes in Linden, the first ones in that town.  The Blue Acres Buyout Program was launched in 2013 to purchase homes from willing sellers at pre-Sandy market value in areas that are prone to repetitive and catastrophic floods.  The structures are then demolished and the areas preserved for open space or recreation areas.  According to NJDEP, buyouts are underway in 12 municipalities in six counties.  Offers have been made to 695 homeowners, 526 have accepted and there have been closings completed at 395 properties, 259 of which have been demolished.  More than 40 homes in Linden have been identified for possible buyouts.

The funding for the program has mostly been through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program with some funds from the Department of Agriculture.  The purchases in Linden and also those in Old Bridge are the first buyouts that are being funded entirely by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”).  HUD Regional Administrator for New Jersey and New York noted that “after the devastation of Sandy, we have no choice but to acknowledge that climate change is a reality, and programs like New Jersey’s Blue Acre Buyout must be part of our nation’s collective preparation.”

NJDEP has an implementation team for the Blue Acres program where staff works closely with the sellers to process their applications and help them through the process.

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Christie Administration Seeks a Stay in EPA’s Clean Power PlanSeptember 3, 2015

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) Commissioner, Bob Martin, sent a letter to United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Gina McCarthy formally requesting EPA to stay and reconsider its Clean Power Plan as it relates to the State of New Jersey.  The Christie Administration argues that the Clean Power Plan is an overreach by the federal government and is particularly unfair to the State of New Jersey, a state that has already made significant reductions to carbon emissions.  The Obama Administration announced the Clean Power Plan, under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, on August 3, 2015, stating that it is a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants in an effort to take action on climate change.  The Clean Power Plan establishes national standards to address carbon pollution from power plants.  The EPA proposed the rule in June of 2014 and it received more than 4.3 million public comments. 

The Christie Administration contends that New Jersey has already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions from its power sector by 33 percent, which is more than the 32 percent reduction goal that EPA set for the entire nation by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan.  Commissioner Martin, in his letter to Commissioner McCarthy, states that “consistent with our 2011 Energy Master Plan, New Jersey has already promoted cleaner and more efficient energy.”  In addition to the provisions under the Energy Master Plan, the Christie Administration is committed to driving down energy costs, promoting a diverse portfolio of clean, sustainable in-state power, promoting energy efficiency and conservation, capitalizing on new technologies and achieving a robust renewable energy portfolio standard.

Attorneys general for fifteen other states petitioned a federal court in Washington last month to block the new rules for power plants.  They requested a ruling by September 8th, one year before the states need to submit compliance plans to EPA.

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EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers Finalize Clean Water RuleMay 28, 2015

Along with Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the finalization of the Clean Water Rule, which is designed to protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the country’s water resources from pollution and degredation. The Rule seeks to clarify and more fully define which water bodies are “waters of the United States” subject to the regulations under the Clean Water Act  and thus EPA’s jurisdiction. The final rule more fully defines water bodies such as  tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters, provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters and protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays and other regional waterways that may impact downstream waters, among other highlights.  According to EPA, approximately 117 million Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protections prior to this Rule.  The protections for streams and wetlands were confusing and complex following Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 and a lack of clear definition of navigable water subject to regulation by the EPA.  As Administrator McCarthy stated “protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms and warmer temperatures.”  The government agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and reviewed over one million public comments, utilizing the latest science, including a report that summarized more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies, which supported the position that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

This Rule does not create any new permitting requirements and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.  The Rule only defines the types of water bodies that are deemed subject to regulatory scheme under  the Clean Water Act.  The Rule does not seek to regulate ditches, groundwater, shallow subsurface flows or tile drains.

The Clean Water Rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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Hot Topic for 2013...FrackingDecember 26, 2012

With President Obama's re-election, we may see an increase in the activities of the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), particularly on energy issues, in 2013. One issue that has already become a hot topic and will continue to be in the news in 2013 is hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Fracking is the process whereby fractures are created in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks in the rocks. The fracturing allows oil and gas to be released and then extracted. Fracking is very controversial and has come to the forefront everywhere from Hollywood to politics. A movie set to open later this month starring Matt Damon addresses the issue of fracking and the debate between the job opportunities and energy resources it offers versus the potential harm to both people and the environment.

On the political side, seven states plan to sue the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") for failing to address climate change, including enactment of guidelines of regulations for fracking. New Jersey's Governor vetoed an anti-fracking bill earlier this year, which would have prevented any fracking material from being transported across the state. New York recently pushed back its issuance of final regulations on fracking, under fire from environment groups and others, to continue to study the issue and the effect it could have on people and the environment. Earlier this month, three New York Assembly members requested that the state's environmental conservation commissioner withdraw the recently proposed regulations.

To be continued in 2013.....

Happy New Year!!

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