Peter Boger (609) 984-1795
Elaine Makatura (609) 292-2994
DEP COMPILES REPORT DETAILING FIRST YEAR OF OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS LAW
(03/136) TRENTON --- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today released a report on the agency's implementation of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). During the first year of the OPRA program, DEP handled more than 7,650 requests for public records - over 62 percent of the requests for public records received by all the state agencies combined.
"The magnitude of OPRA requests we have processed reflects DEP's unwavering commitment to expand public access to information," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. "We take very seriously the responsibility to remain open, accountable and accessible - the more information the public has, the more effectively democratic government operates."
Campbell warned, however, that costs for maintaining DEP's OPRA program were higher than necessary due to consultants and lawyers attempting to use the system to shift workloads onto the state. Approximately 76 percent of all OPRA requests received by DEP come from consultants or lawyers.
"Unfortunately, private developers and corporate lawyers are abusing this well-intentioned law," Campbell said. "Their demands are diverting resources that are needed for environmental protection."
In OPRA's first year, DEP's records custodians and file officers spent over 50,000 hours tracking down records and preparing them for the public at a cost of more than $1.4 million. These costs do not include photocopying expenses, which the department does recoup from requesters, as permissible by the OPRA law.
To facilitate public access to information and to try to reduce staff costs, DEP provides a number of frequently requested reports at the OPRA portion of its website. These reports, which the agency continually updates and adds to, include compliance and enforcement results for facilities statewide, information on air quality permits, and pollution discharge permits. In addition, DEP is continually improving Internet access to real-time data through its i-Map NJ mapping database.
Of the more than 7,650 requests received by DEP in the OPRA program's first year, more than 7,100, or almost 93 percent, successfully gained access to the requested records, while only seven percent, or 550 requests, were denied. Many denials were due to improperly submitted or incomplete requests. DEP had no appeals of its decisions to deny a request for information.
In all, the State's executive departments and agencies received 12,289 public record requests from July 8, 2002 to July 7, 2003, of which DEP handled 7,665. DEP currently averages 21 requests a day, seven days a week.
Much of the credit for DEP's smooth implementation of the OPRA requirements is due to the hard work and diligence of the centralized records office that has taken charge since day one to facilitate the voluminous OPRA requests DEP receives. The department's centralized Office of the Records Custodian (ORC) streamlines the receipt and processing of all requests, providing a single point of contact for the public.
New Jersey's Open Public Records Act took effect on July 7, 2002. OPRA establishes a strict, seven-business-day timeframe for providing access to state and local documents. Certain information is exempted from the policy for reasons of domestic security or the legal need for confidentiality. The act covers all agencies of the executive branch of state government, while exempting the legislature from its provisions.
For more information about the DEP's implementation of OPRA, including an electronic copy of the report, or to make a public records request, visit the DEP's website at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/opra.
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