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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 18, 2004

Contact: Peter Boger
(609) 984-1795

DEP COMPILES REPORT DETAILING SECOND YEAR OF OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS LAW

Almost $1.4 Million Diverted from Environmental Protection Funds to Implement Law

(04/97) TRENTON -- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today released a report on the agency's second year implementing New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA). DEP has received the vast majority of state records requests, handling more than 17,500 requests in OPRA's first two years - over 55 percent of the combined requests for public records received by all state agencies.

"The number of OPRA requests we have processed and granted 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 government operates."

In OPRA's second 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 almost $1.4 million.

"Despite excessive demands from some legal and consulting firms attempting to dredge up business and to use the system to shift their workloads onto the state, we are fully complying with the law - even as it diverts limited resources away from environmental protection," Campbell said. "With an almost 30 percent increase in the number of requests this year, our costs for managing the OPRA program remain high, but, per request, have declined due to our efficient and streamlined program."

To facilitate public access to information and to reduce staff costs, DEP provides frequently requested reports at the OPRA portion of its website. These continually updated and expanded reports include compliance and enforcement results for facilities, 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 and its Data Miner program.

Of the 9,849 requests received by DEP in the OPRA program's second year, more than 9,750, or over 99 percent, successfully gained access to the requested records. Less than one percent, or 92 requests, were denied. Many denials were due to improperly submitted or incomplete requests. To date, DEP's decisions to deny a request have been appealed only twice - once to the Government Records Council and once to the New Jersey Supreme Court. DEP prevailed in both cases.

In all, the State's executive departments and agencies received 19,522 public record requests from July 7, 2003 to July 6, 2004. DEP's 9,849 requests represented an increase of 2,185 requests over the number received during the first year of the agency's OPRA program. DEP currently averages 27 requests a day, seven days a week.

Much of the credit for DEP's smooth implementation of the OPRA requirements is due to its centralized Office of the Records Custodian that has taken charge since day one to facilitate the voluminous OPRA requests DEP receives, 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 exempt 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.

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