Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling Undermines Enforcement of Wetlands Protections

Sometimes laws that protect the environment are emasculated by precedent setting rulings by the courts. In New Jersey, the state's highest court has made it harder to enforce environmental protections. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of upholding the state's wetland protections but added an unsettling caveat.

A 1987 law in New Jersey was supposed to give the state's Department of Environmental Protections the mandate to protect wetlands. The law protects drinking water, prevents flooding, and preserves important habitats for fish and wildlife. However, a recent unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court erodes the law.

Although the Supreme Court decision upheld a ruling by the agency to impose a civil penalty of $4,500 on homeowners who improperly filled in wetlands on their property, the ruling could make it harder for the agency to enforce the wetlands law, and possibly other environmental statues. Specifically, the ruling undermines the law’s statutory authority to enter properties to determine compliance with the freshwater wetlands act.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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