New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, who has been with the Christie administration since Day 1, recalled a day eight years ago when gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie approached him and said, "I want you to be my DEP Commissioner!"
A stunned Martin, then a partner at the consulting and professional services company Accenture, paused and said: "DEP? I am not a scientist."
Christie's response, according to Martin, was without delay: "They don't need more scientists at the DEP. They need someone in there that can fix the place."
Today, Martin is one of New Jersey's longest-tenured DEP commissioners, and he appraised his nearly eight years at the helm in an address to business leaders Sept. 20 presented jointly by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
Martin's "four major accomplishments," he said, have been overseeing a transformation of the department's culture; the adoption of regulation reform; the Superstorm Sandy recovery; and the ongoing clean-up of the Passaic River.
Martin made waves at the very start. Though half of the department's 3,000 employees had advanced degrees and 10 to 15 percent had PhDs, Martin said one of his first actions was to require all DEP employees to take customer service training.
The move surprised many, but it was part of transforming a department that was notorious for being difficult to work with to one that would ably work with applicants seeking permits to develop projects.
"Better communications with the regulated community made it easier to settle our differences," Martin said.
Streamlining the Application Process
The department has leveraged technology in the information age, Martin said. More permit applications were put online, and in some cases, there is now a single application when applying for multiple permits. This is critical because "with every one of those permits (approved), there is a job attached," Martin said. "Still, we make decisions based on science, data and facts, not politics or ideology. That makes my life easy. I don't get into the politics of it all."
As far as regulation reform, Martin and his staff have worked diligently towards transforming the department into a more efficient and customer service-oriented agency. Under his tenure, the DEP's Licensed Site Remediation Program (LSRP) has been established, reducing the number of contaminated sites in New Jersey and bringing idle properties into productive use. Two major regulatory proposals -- the Waiver Rule, allowing the DEP to waive strict compliance with regulations in certain limited circumstances, and the Public Access Rule -- were implemented.
Five years ago, there was Sandy, and for a while nothing else seemed to matter. Martin helped oversee the removal of debris, restoring water systems and wastewater plants, and restoring the state's beaches and boardwalks.
Martin's most enduring lesson from the superstorm: "We learned we needed better technology and better maps so we could anticipate when storms are going to hit and what kind of damage to expect," Martin said. Since Sandy, "We installed a full coastal storm protection system for $1 billion, with the help of funding from the federal government."
Passaic River Cleanup
Martin also touted the Passaic River Cleanup project that is getting underway, a $1.38 billion project to dredge more than 3.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment. He said the successful litigation of the polluters will help fund the 10-year project "without New Jersey paying a penny."
"When I got the job they were in the tenth year of a three-year feasibility study," Martin said. Now, he added, the cleanup project is underway.
Thank you to PSEG for sponsoring the event.
For photos from the event, click on an image below: