ASSEMBLY CONCURRENT RESOLUTION No. 192

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

217th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JUNE 20, 2016

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  JOHN F. MCKEON

District 27 (Essex and Morris)

Assemblywoman  L. GRACE SPENCER

District 29 (Essex)

Assemblywoman  ELIZABETH MAHER MUOIO

District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)

Assemblyman  DANIEL R. BENSON

District 14 (Mercer and Middlesex)

Assemblyman  REED GUSCIORA

District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)

Assemblyman  HERB CONAWAY, JR.

District 7 (Burlington)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman Caride, Assemblyman Caputo, Assemblywoman Pinkin and Assemblyman Eustace

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Determines that DEP’s proposal to amend septic system density standards in Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules is inconsistent with legislative intent.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


A Concurrent Resolution concerning legislative review of certain proposed Department of Environmental Protection regulations pursuant to Article V, Section IV, paragraph 6 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey.

 

Whereas, Article V, Section IV, paragraph 6 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey provides that the Legislature may review any rule or regulation adopted or proposed by an administrative agency to determine if the rule or regulation is consistent with the intent of the Legislature as expressed in the language of the statute which the rule or regulation is intended to implement and, upon a finding that the rule or regulation is not consistent with legislative intent, may transmit the finding to the Governor and the head of the agency; and

Whereas, On May 2, 2016, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed for public comment in the New Jersey Register, at 48 N.J.R. 677(a), a rule proposal to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules; and

Whereas, The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (“Highlands Act”), P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-1 et al.), establishes a comprehensive, long-term approach to the protection and preservation of the drinking water and natural resources of the New Jersey Highlands Region, which is the source of the drinking water for more than half of the residents of New Jersey and contains other exceptional natural resources such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds, and habitat for fauna and flora, includes many sites of historic significance, and provides abundant recreational opportunities for the citizens of the State; and

Whereas, The Highlands Act states that this comprehensive approach to protecting the Highlands Region includes the identification of a preservation area “that would be subjected to stringent water and natural resource protection standards, policies, planning, and regulation,” and directs the DEP to develop and enforce an environmental permitting program with statutorily established standards in the preservation area of the Highlands Region, and the act contains very specific standards to be included in this permitting program; and

Whereas, With regard to septic system density, the Highlands Act requires the DEP’s rules to include “a septic system density standard established at a level to prevent the degradation of water quality, or to require the restoration of water quality, and to protect ecological uses from individual, secondary, and cumulative impacts, in consideration of deep aquifer recharge available for dilution”; and

Whereas, The existing septic system density standards contained in the DEP’s rules were originally adopted in May 2005, and subsequently readopted in 2006, and the methodology used by the DEP to establish those standards was found to be appropriate as part of a fact-finding hearing conducted by the Office of Administrative Law in response to a challenge brought by the New Jersey Farm Bureau; and

Whereas, An Initial Decision by the Office of Administrative Law, dated March 24, 2009, concluded that the originally adopted septic system density standards set out in the DEP’s rules were a valid exercise of the agency’s discretion, and this finding, that the DEP acted properly in adopting its septic system density standards, was adopted as a Final Decision on July 13, 2009; and

Whereas, The DEP’s rule proposal states that the proposed standards “could result in up to 1,145 additional septic systems, or about 12 percent more individual septic systems than under the existing rule”; and

Whereas, Even properly operating and maintained septic systems discharge nutrients, such as phosphates and nitrates, and some bacteria or viruses to groundwater, and improperly sited or maintained septic systems can discharge even more contaminants to groundwater, resulting in contamination of groundwater and surface water resources; and

Whereas, When nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are discharged from septic systems into the groundwater, they contaminate drinking water supplies, and also represent a potentially significant nonpoint source of pollution; and

Whereas, Septic systems may also contribute to the contamination of groundwater by toxic chemicals; and the contaminants that may enter groundwater through septic systems include heavy metals and toxic chemicals from small commercial establishments, ingredients in household products, and organic chemicals typically found in septic tank cleaning products; and

Whereas, According to a 2015 report, “Potable Water Supplied in 2011 by New Jersey’s Highlands,” published by the New Jersey Geological and Water Survey, in 2011 the Highlands Region supplied 136 billion gallons of water or approximately one-third of the total amount of potable water used in the State, and Highlands water was distributed to 332 municipalities in 16 counties, home to 70% of the State’s population; and

Whereas, This is an increase from estimates in 1999 which calculated that 107 billion gallons of the State’s potable water came from the Highlands Region and was used in 292 municipalities, demonstrating that the Highlands Region serves an increasingly important role in the State’s potable water supply deserving of strong environmental protections; and

Whereas, The provisions of the Highlands Act with regard to the septic system density standards have not changed since enactment of the act, and there is no provision in the Highlands Act directing the DEP to review and weaken its originally adopted rules; and

Whereas, The new standards contained in the May 2, 2016 rule proposal do not comply with the requirement in the Highlands Act for the septic system density standards to be established at a level to prevent the degradation of water quality, or to require the restoration of water quality, and to protect ecological uses; and

Whereas, The proposed new standards do not promote the restoration of water quality nor are they established upon a sound scientific basis that will ensure the non-degradation of water quality; and

Whereas, The proposed amendments contained in the proposal published by the DEP in the New Jersey Register on May 2, 2016 to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules are inconsistent with the intent of the Legislature; now, therefore,

 

     Be It Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey (the Senate concurring):

 

     1.    The Legislature declares that the proposal by the Department of Environmental Protection, published for public comment in the New Jersey Register on May 2, 2016, to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules is not consistent with legislative intent.

 

     2.    Copies of this resolution, as filed with the Secretary of State, shall be transmitted by the Clerk of the General Assembly or the Secretary of the Senate to the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

 

     3.    Pursuant to Article V, Section IV, paragraph 6 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, the Commissioner of Environmental Protection shall have 30 days following transmittal of this resolution to amend or withdraw the proposed rules and regulations or the Legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the Constitution to invalidate the rules and regulations in whole or in part.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This concurrent resolution embodies the finding of the Legislature that the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal to revise the septic system density standards in the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules, published for public comment in the New Jersey Register on May 2, 2016, is not consistent with the intent of the Legislature.

     The Commissioner of Environmental Protection will have 30 days from the date of transmittal of this resolution to amend or withdraw the proposed rules and regulations, or the Legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the Constitution to invalidate the rules and regulations in whole or in part.