On Thursday, the Assembly Environment Committee released a bill that would allow sewage treatment plants off the hook for expelling pollutants into our waterways. Bill A3128 would no longer qualify certain types of sewage and sewage sludge discharged from a public sewer system or treatment plant as hazardous substances under the “Spill Compensation and Control Act”.
Currently the Spill Act includes industrial waste and toxic chemicals in its definition of sewage sludge but this bill would change that. Whole sewage systems could be exempt including if pipes break or pumping stations fail to work.
This legislation is not only a threat to the Clean Water Act but to every major waterway in the state of New Jersey. Under this bill sewage authorities will be able to dump sewage sludge or partially treated sewage into our waterways and not be held accountable. This legislation is a threat to clean water and our environment.
Along with the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Chemistry Council, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, and New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce have raised significant concerns about the legislation.
Many of these treatment facilities receive toxic chemicals from Superfund Sites or other hazardous sites. They also receive industrial wastes from factories including toxic and hazardous materials making this an even bigger potential public health issue. The plants could also be accepting waste from fracking operations.
Instead of tackling this issue by introducing legislation holding companies and towns accountable for spills, this bill does the opposite. This bill will allow public entities to keep polluting without any consequence and with no deterrent to do the right thing since there is no liability. After all the pollution that has been spilled into our environment after Sandy this legislation let’s these entities continue to get away with dumping, potentially causing an environmental and health calamity. These spills have caused tremendous implications and to not be able to hold these plants liable for the damage done to the environment, fisheries, and our health not only undercuts environmental enforcement, but hurts property that has been affected.
During Hurricane Sandy we saw just how vulnerable these plants are and we should be strengthening regulations, not weakening them. During the hurricane over 20% of our sewer treatment plants failed, resulting in the largest discharges of sewage since the passage of the Clean Water Act. After Hurricane Sandy we should be strengthening our clean water and toxic spill laws not weakening them.
We have 72 major sewage plants above water intakes on the Passaic River, more than 60 on the Raritan River with dozens more on the Delware. This will allow more spills and sewage sludge into our waterways having a direct impact on our water supply impacting public health and environment.
In the early 1990’s the Wanaque Municipal Sewage Authority was caught pinning its metering and allowing more waste into the river than was allowed. To hide the extra sludge the plant was generating they were dumping the excess into storm drains and parks, causing sewage sludge to end up in rivers. They were also caught illegally accepting industrial processed materials that include thallium. They hooked up houses illegally and then hide the evidence. The plant manager went to jail; under this bill they would not be held accountable.
This exemption would allow sewage authorities to dump sewage sludge on farmland or other open space areas even if it contains toxic materials and could cause a direct threat to groundwater. In the early 2000’s there were major problems when the state allowed sewage sludge to be dumped in farm fields in Harmony. This bill would trump regulations passed to protect groundwater and farm fields from sewer sludges as a result of the dumping in Warren County.
In addition this legislation is unconstitutional, setting up a different class between public and private entities. Under this bill if a person or corporation spills chemicals they can be sued and held liable, but not a governmental entity.
This legislation gives polluters a free pass that will end up meaning more pollution in our waterways and toxins in our communities impacting both the environment and public health. This bill is a major step backward for clean water and toxins in our environment by not only weakening the Clean Water Act, but eliminating the Spill Act when it comes to governmental entities. Ronald Reagan said ‘Government is not the solution, but the problem’ with this legislation now ‘Government is the pollution and the problem.’