Under the “traditional” site remediation program, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) responded to inquiries asking for the status of an investigation/cleanup of a site because it had all the information necessary to do so at its disposal. That is no longer the case. Under the Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) remediation program, and pursuant to the Administrative Requirements for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites (ARRCS), N.J.A.C. 7:26C-1.7(o), the person responsible for conducting the remediation (RP) is required to respond to public inquiries either received by them directly or received by NJDEP. Further, according to NJDEP’s policy it will direct inquiries from the public, press and elected officials to both the RP and LSRP or in certain circumstances just to the LSRP. Therefore, RPs should establish a process with their LSRPs to respond to these public inquires to ensure timely and coordinated responses and to ensure that confidential or proprietary information is not released.
According to NJDEP’s Public Inquiry Policy Document, NJDEP will forward inquiries from the public in the following manner:
Referrals and Inquiries made by State, Local and County Elected Officials or the Commissioner’s Office of NJDEP: The NJDEP Office of Community Relations (OCR) will call and send a form letter to the referral writer or the official making the inquiry to clarify the issues in question and explain that the LSRP for the site may be the person best able to answer their questions. OCR will then email or fax the referral letter/inquiry to the RP and their LSRP for a written response. When OCR receives a copy of the RP/LSRP response to the referral, it will attach the letter to its copy of the completed referral on file. If the response is grossly inaccurate or incomplete as determined by NJDEP, OCR may contact the RP and LSRP to request additional action.
“CONTACT NJDEP” Emails Regarding LSRP Sites: If an inquiry is made through NJDEP’s website using the “CONTACT NJDEP” feature, OCR will forward the email inquiry to the RP and their LSRP for a response; this response may be provided through e-mail or a formal written letter. NJDEP will send an e-mail to the person making the e-mail inquiry explaining that the remediation is currently being overseen by an LSRP, who may have the most current detailed information, and that their e-mail has been forwarded to the RP and their LSRP for an e-mail response. Again, if NJDEP deems a response is grossly inaccurate or incomplete, OCR may contact the RP and LSRP to request additional action.
Telephone/Email Inquiries Received by NJDEP from the Public: OCR will explain that the remediation is currently being overseen by an LSRP, who may have the most current detailed information, and will provide the caller with the contact information for the RP and their LSRP. OCR can describe summary site information if that information has been submitted to OCR as part of the responsible party’s public notification requirements.
Press Inquiries: When referring press inquiries to the Press Office, the person responsible for forwarding the inquiry will first determine the LSRP of record before forwarding the name of the newspaper, reporter’s name and LSRP contact information to the Press Office.
Interestingly, NJDEP has enforcement tools against both the RP and LSRP to ensure compliance. If the RP and/or LSRP does not respond as requested, SRP will contact both the RP and the LSRP to “encourage compliance” by noting the statutory and regulatory requirements. Failure of the RP to conduct public outreach when required pursuant to ARRCS, N.J.A.C. 7:26C-1.7(o) is a minor violation and can result in a base penalty of $10,000 to the RP. According to NJDEP’s Public Inquiry Policy Document, if the RP has delegated the responsibility to respond to their LSRP and the LSRP does not respond or responds inappropriately, the LSRP may be referred to the Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board to determine if a code of conduct violation is identified.
Throughout NJDEP’s Public Inquiry Policy Document, there are references to situations where both the RP and LSRP are contacted and both have obligations to respond as they both face potential enforcement repercussions. Accordingly, to ensure compliance and to prevent enforcement, the process to respond to these public inquires should be established by the RP and its LSRP well before an inquiry is received.