New Jersey Site Remediation – Key Issues for 2024

January 18, 2024
Thomas M. Duncan, Esq. and Natalia P. Teekah, Esq.
MGKF Special Alert - 2024 New Jersey Forecast

2024 will see some major changes in the New Jersey Site Remediation Program that will directly impact both the remediation process and the standards with which responsible parties must comply.  The state’s main initiatives are addressed below.

Ground and Surface Water Quality Standards & Remediation
On January 2, 2024, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) through its Division of Water Monitoring, Standards and Pesticide Control (DWMSPC) promulgated a new rule amending the Ground Water Quality Standards (GWQS) at N.J.A.C. 7:9C in connection with Class-IIA waters. NJDEP is proposing to amend GWQS and practical quantitation levels which will result in changes to GWQS for 65 of the 73 affected constituents, with the GWQS for eight constituents remaining unchanged by the GW Rule.  See our article providing further detail on the new GWQS.

NJDEP’s DWMSPC is also expected to promulgate revised Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS) at N.J.A.C. 7:9B in early 2024. The revised standards are expected to provide new criteria for PFNA, PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane, and update or add criteria for 94 toxic substances, with some constituents potentially becoming more stringent by an order of magnitude or more.

Changes to the GWQS and SWQS that result in criteria becoming more stringent by an order of magnitude or more could impact active remediation at sites with groundwater contamination and/or a groundwater to surface water pathway. Closed sites that have received No Further Action letters or Response Action Outcomes (RAOs) or sites with approved Remedial Action Workplans may be subject to additional remediation. Any sites with Classification Exception Areas will need to be reevaluated at the next biennial certification to ensure that they remain in compliance given NJDEP’s new standards.

Expedited Review and the Remediation Process Improvement Initiative
In mid-2023, NJDEP created a pathway for remedial action permit (RAP) applicants to request that NJDEP prioritize their application review by releasing a Prioritized Initial RAP Application Addendum in furtherance of its goal to reduce RAP application processing times. If the subject site can be classified under one of the five types of RAPs described in the Addendum, applicants may either submit the Addendum with their initial RAP application or provide the Addendum by email if the initial RAP application is already pending before NJDEP.

NJDEP has also been working closely with the Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board to revise rules applicable to Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs) for consistency with 2019 amendments to the Site Remediation Reform Act. NJDEP promulgated rule updates effective November 20, 2023, aimed at correcting errors and inconsistencies in the original January 2016 rules.

These changes are part of a larger effort to allow LSRPs to undertake additional responsibilities that previously fell within NJDEP’s purview. NJDEP’s Contaminated Site Remediation & Redevelopment Program (CSRRP) is currently involved in a Remediation Process Improvement Initiative (RPII) aimed at addressing certain steps in the remediation approval process that have historically delayed the issuance of RAOs and led to unpredictable timeframes for redevelopers. The RPII aims to develop guidance and training to assist LSRPs to avoid common errors seen in the Remedial Action Permit (RAP) approval process and increase transparency in the approval submission process to resolve deficiency letters and technical disagreements more efficiently.

The CSRRP is also expected to promulgate a new certification process for initial RAP applications to allow LSRPs to certify the existence of certain conditions at a site to allow the CSRRP to issue permits upon receipt of a complete certification. The CSRRP will still audit a percentage of RAPs and conduct a review on those applications for which a certification has not been received. Applications that have received a Notice of Incompleteness will have 60 days to resolve outstanding issues and submit a new certification. The CSRRP is also investigating allowing permits-by-certification as a future electronic service and anticipates this new process will help alleviate its backlog of RAP applications. The CSRRP will promulgate the soil certification first and then the groundwater certification; LSRPs and persons responsible for conducting the remediation will receive further correspondence outlining the new certification process. NJDEP has not yet released details on when new certifications can be expected.

Brownfield Development Area Designation
The CSRRP has reinstated the voluntary Brownfield Development Area (BDA) Program, which allows for BDA designation in communities with multiple brownfield sites. BDA designation allows selected communities to design and implement remediation and reuse plans for multiple properties simultaneously and encourages coordination between municipalities, developers, owners of contaminated property, and potentially responsible parties. Applications can be submitted by local Steering Committees comprised of representatives from municipalities, counties, redevelopment agencies, housing and improvement authorities and other stakeholders. Applications will be accepted through April 30, 2024.