The disruptions caused by coronavirus did not skip the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but according to Assistant Commissioner Mark Pedersen, you wouldn’t know it by the results of the Site Remediation and Waste Management unit.
At NJBIA’s virtual Environmental Policy Committee meeting Friday morning, Pedersen said his department has been operating at between 80% and 90% effectiveness despite having to all but close the DEP building and move nearly all personnel to remote work without really having the equipment to do so.
“Some of our staff had the tools and the technologies to work from home remotely and others did not,” Pedersen said.
After about a week of adjustment, the section was functioning well. Consider that in November, it processed 171 permit applications for the month. In March, even with the disruption, it processed 237 permits. While some of that can be attributed to improvements to the system (his unit processed 247 permits in January and 281 in February), it still showed that staff took the move to remote work seriously and dedicated themselves to getting the job done.
“People are working in some instances more productively than when they were in the office,” Pedersen said.
To make things more efficient, Pedersen requested those seeking permits to send in whatever documents they can by email so that they can be distributed to the appropriate staff electronically. Otherwise, it requires someone from DEP’s support staff to go into the building and scan the documents, which will delay the process.
Pedersen said the regulated community should check in with the DEP’s COVID-19 webpage for updates and information on how to do business with the department during the emergency.
One item added this week is a LISTSERV email that went out April 21 clarifying that site remediation is covered under the essential activities section of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order 122.
Finally, Pedersen said that the SRP program was also about to release additional COVID-19 related guidance that would give permit holders an additional 90-days to comply with permit conditions. It is expected that this additional guidance would be released as early as today.