A hazardous waste processor will not be able to quickly reopen in Salem County after Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have exempted it from new permit requirements.
The move delighted environmental groups last week, even though they would have preferred a total veto.
Senate Bill 879, sponsored by state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and other Democrats from southwestern New Jersey, passed the Senate in February and the Assembly in April. It would have allowed the Chemours Chambers Works Facility in the Deepwater section of Pennsville Township to reopen for processing a variety of hazardous waste under old permits and standards. The treated wastewater would have been discharged into the Delaware River.
The changes Gov. Phil Murphy is demanding in his conditional veto would require the facility to obtain new permits under current environmental laws.
One-time owner E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Co. stopped taking outside waste for processing in 2011 and sold the facility to its spin-off Chemours in 2015.
“DuPont has a long history of polluting NJ and cannot be allowed, as outlined in this bill, carte blanche to operate their facility in South Jersey,” said Alyssa Bradley, energy organizer for Clean Water Action, in a press statement issued by a coalition of activist groups. “While we would have preferred an outright veto of the bill, we’re glad Governor Murphy is making a step in the right direction.”
Carneys Point Township has sued Du Pont De Nemours for $1.13 billion in Salem County Superior Court, saying that’s what it will cost to clean up existing pollution at the century-old chemical site.
The Chambers Works plant had stopped operating as a commercial facility in 2011, when it was the fourth-largest hazardous waste discharger in the nation and the biggest in New Jersey, according to the coalition. There is an ongoing cleanup overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA said years of chemical manufacturing and waste management at the site have resulted in contamination of the site’s groundwater and soils with organic and inorganic chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and radiological materials.
“The improvements the Governor made to the bill in his conditional veto will safeguard our clean drinking water, the Delaware River, and the fishing industries that rely on its health,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
The environmental groups were concerned the facility would quickly resume handling off-site hazardous waste such as fracking wastewater, military nerve agents and radioactive materials.
“Now that the Governor has stood up to the DuPont bill, we need him to stand up for a full ban of fracking and fracking waste in the Delaware Basin,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said the governor’s action shows Murphy is willing to listen to communities.
“But it also shows how essential it is to secure a Delaware River Basin Commission regulation that rejects frack waste water and water withdrawals, along with rejecting fracking,” van Rossum said.
Hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — is a process that extracts natural gas or oil after injecting pressurized liquid into the earth to fracture subterranean shale. It has been linked to contaminated groundwater and other environmental damage.
The current commission is considering a ban on fracking in the watershed, but not the disposal of water waste from fracking.
“The facility demands the most stringent environmental reviews, and certainly shouldn’t be exempt from any environmental permitting requirements,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
Food and Water Watch Policy Advocate Lena Smith said in a separate statement the governor should support a bill in the Legislature to ban fracking waste statewide.