New Jersey Republicans seek ban on intra-agency fines

(The Center Square) — New Jersey Republicans are pushing a proposal that would prohibit state agencies from imposing civil penalties on other state agencies or bureaus in response to a conflict between two state environmental regulatory agencies.

The proposal, filed by several GOP lawmakers, would prohibit state agencies from “assessing, imposing, or enforcing civil penalties on state agencies, or a division, board, bureau, or office of an agency.”

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, state Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Toms River, said the changes are meant to “restore some common sense to New Jersey’s regulatory policies.”

“No state agency should be able to fine another state agency much less a division of one,” he said in a statement. “New Jersey taxpayers have had enough of these legal loopholes that only serve to expand an already bloated government bureaucracy.”

The proposal comes in response to a regulatory spat between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and one of its agencies, the Fish and Wildlife’s Bureau of Land Management, alleging that the agency illegally cleared protected forest wetlands during a wildlife management project.

The bureau was fined $266,000 for “unauthorized” forest clearing, which the agency said destroyed thousands of trees and more than a dozen acres of state-protected wetlands.

The New Jersey DEP acknowledged the unauthorized work in a violation notice on its website, which said the project was meant to restore habitat for the American woodcock, a protected bird, but ended up destroying trees and wetlands in the process.

“The wetland soil and flora that were previously undisturbed have been destroyed, and the mature forest that was already habitat for numerous rare species of plants and birds was clear-cut logged,” the agency wrote in a violation notice. “All trees have been cut, and all stumps bulldozed.”

But GOP lawmakers said the incident highlights a major problem with the states and environmental regulatory system that needs to be addressed.

“It’s bizarre that we even have to introduce a bill for what should be common sense,” said state Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-Toms River, another sponsor of the bill. “After the DEP issued that fine to itself, no one even knew how it would be paid or where the money would go. It was a complete waste of time and taxpayer resources.”

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