Last week, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection held a press conference to announce the filing of eight new environmental enforcement actions. Targeted sites include Camden’s Puchack Wellfield Superfund Site, the Fillit Corp. site in Palmyra, 323 North Olden Ave. in Trenton, the Novick Chemical site in Newark, Tirpok Cleaners in Flemington, and gas stations in Newark, Camden and Phillipsburg.
This is the State’s second round of environmental enforcement actions this year, following six enforcement actions filed in August. Press releases related to this announcement stylized the new actions as “Environmental Justice Actions.” Environmental Justice addresses the disproportionate impacts of environmental consequences on groups of people based on race, color, national origin, or income. Accordingly, the State’s press releases include the mean income and minority population percentage of the areas surrounding each new enforcement site.
In addition to announcing the newly filed actions, the State also announced the creation of an “Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice Section” in the office of the Attorney General. While statements at the press conference suggested that this section is something never before seen in New Jersey, in fact the section appears to be a recycled version of the short-lived Environmental Prosecutor’s Office created by Governor Florio in 1992 and eliminated by Governor Whitman in 1994. Regardless, the creation of the office clearly conveys the message that aggressive environmental enforcement will continue throughout the current administration.
The action concerning the Puchack Wellfield, a Superfund Site that the EPA has been overseeing since the late 1990s, is notable among those filed last week because it seeks natural resources damages for injury to groundwater. As alleged by the State in that action, “there are thousands of sites in New Jersey confirmed as having groundwater contaminated with hazardous substances.” The historic contamination at those sites will provide the new enforcement section with ample opportunity to seek natural resources damages in future actions.