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Chemistry Council, Sierra Club unite on pollution issue

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A prominent business organization today joined five environmentalists groups to call on federal regulators to stop two state bills they say would weaken environmental protections.

The Chemistry Council of New Jersey co-signed a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Judith Enck asking her to stop bills related to the state's anti-pollution Spill Act.

"This is the first time we have seen the business and environmental communities so united in opposition to bills because they are such a weakening of the Clean Water Act and an attack on environmental enforcement," the letter states.

The first of the two bills is S-2094, which would change the Spill Act's definition of hazardous substances, so as to exclude sewage and sewage sludge from public facilities. The second, S-2322, would exempt public entities from cleanup or removal costs associated with hazardous substances.

The bills come as state regulators are cracking down on pollution in the Passaic River caused by the former Diamond Shamrock site. While Diamond Shamrock's successors are being held chiefly liable for the pollution, the companies involved in the lawsuit also added 258 third-party defendants to the case. Those third parties, generally local municipalities and sewerage authorities, bear some of the responsibility for the pollution, the companies say.

The bill is able to cross the business/environmentalist divide because it's seen as weakening environmental protections, and doing so in a way that could leave companies to pay for the cleanup of pollution caused by public entities.

"Municipalities should be held to the same standards and level of accountability as any entity that is responsible for unlawful environmental contamination," said Hal Bozarth, of the chemistry council, in a press release issued today.

The coalition's letter argues the legislation would violate the federal Clean Water Act and other federal statutes. They ask Enck to review the legislation and ask legislative leaders here to kill the bills.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said he fears the bills would discourage vigilance on the part of municipalities and public utility authorities, since he said it would exempt them from the consequences of their pollution.

"The legislation is not only a threat to the Clean Water Act, but to every major waterway in the state," he said.

Correction: The Diamond Shamrock site is at the heart of the matter. An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed a different chemical company.

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