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Legislators Hold Water-Quality Bill but Rap DEP for Delays Setting Standards

Friday, February 3, 2017   (0 Comments)
Share | 02/03/17

The state’s failure to establish drinking-water standards for a range of toxic contaminants, some recommended a dozen years ago, came under harsh scrutiny and criticism from legislators Tuesday. Nevertheless, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held a bill to require the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt new standards for 16 substances, largely on the urging of a top agency executive.

The dispute stems from long-ago recommendations developed by the state Drinking Water Quality Institute, an advisory panel of scientists and academics, to establish tough new drinking-water standards for radon, perchlorate, vinyl chloride, and other contaminants. The institute recommended the perchlorate standard in 2005, and the others in 2009.

Under current law, the recommendations go to the DEP, but in this case it never acted upon them. If the bill (S-2468) were enacted, the commissioner of the agency would have 60 days to propose rules establishing new standards for the toxics.

Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Burlington) acknowledged the 60-day timeframe might be too short, but criticized the agency’s lack of action. “I find it inexcusable that you go 12 years without any kind of response and then you go eight years without a response,’’ he told Gray.

Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) also questioned whether the agency had been proactive enough. “If they haven’t acted, then that could mean things could be in our drinking water that are not safe,’’ she said.

Most of the new standards were recommended in 2009 in the final year of the Corzine administration, which, too, never acted on them. After Gov. Chris Christie took office, there was a nearly four-year hiatus when the Drinking Water Quality Institute never met.

Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the chairman of the committee, called for better collaboration between the DEP and the drinking water panel. He said he would hold the bill for 30 days, and urged the DEP to come in with a plan that resolves the issues raised at the hearing.

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