Delaware Public Media

Delaware lawmakers try to make over Coastal Zone Act

May 18, 2017

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are trying to pry open the landmark Coastal Zone Act.

The proposal would alter one of the laws environmentalists hold most dear by allowing heavy industry to once again set up shop next to state shorelines.

It would only apply to 14 specific sites – 13 of which are in New Castle County, with one in Kent County. Many of them, like the former Evraz Steel plant in Claymont and the DuPont plant in Edge Moor still harbor heavy pollution that needs to be cleaned up.

Some are already in use, like the Delaware City Refinery and the Port of Wilmington.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark area), says it’s tailored in a way to help the economy and scrub the surrounding environment.

“I want it to be able to thread the needle between creating some jobs in the coastal zone while also protecting our pristine coastline,” Osienski said.

Any businesses fishing for a permit from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control would have to lay out a plan to detoxify the site, prevent further pollution and outline a way to adapt to sea level rise.

New oil refineries would not be allowed. Neither would pulp mills, incinerators or steel manufacturing plants.

A permit would allow new and existing companies to ship oil and other bulk products, but Osienski says it’s much safer to do so now than when the law was enacted more than 40 years ago.

“I’m sure with the new technology, with sensors, switches, electronics, video, pressure sensors, I mean, when something goes wrong it’s going to be caught quickly to eliminate any major disaster,” he said.

In a statement, Gov. John Carney (D) said the measure allows the necessary flexibility to repurpose these old sites.

“We should do what we can to add good-paying jobs for all Delawareans, while continuing to protect our natural resources. The responsible changes in this bill meet that test,” Carney said.

Environmental groups say they’re still reviewing the bill, but historically have tried to shut down any attempts to change the Coastal Zone Act.