REPORT DETAILING FIRST YEAR OF
OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS LAW
$1.4 Million Diverted
from Environmental Protection Efforts to Implement Program
(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
"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
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
"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
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