Thomas H. Kean Administration Environment Timeline



November 3
In the gubernatorial election the returns are too close to call, leaving uncertainty over who the next Governor of New Jersey will be. At the same time, voters overwhelming approve four environmental-related bond issues, approving a $350 million bond issue to upgrade the State’s water supply facilities, a $100 million bond issue to clean up hazardous waste sites, a $50 million bond issue to preserve farmland, and amending the terms of a 1969 water conservation bond issue.


January 27
Thomas H. Kean is inaugurated as the 48th governor of New Jersey. In his inaugural address, Governor Kean declares “Our children and our grandchildren deserve the right to live and work in this State free from the fears of poisons in their air, water and earth.”

March 14
Robert E. Hughey is ratified by the State Senate to become the State’s new Commissioner of Environmental Protection, replacing Byrne appointee Jerry F. English, who had served since Aug 23, 1979. Commissioner Hughey serves in the office for the next four years.

July 27
Attorney General Irwin Kimmelman files a lawsuit seeking to block federal approval of an auction to lease sites for oil and gas drilling off the New Jersey coast.

November 30
Governor Kean officiates at the opening of a $5.2 million environmental study center and office building built over former garbage dumps in Hackensack Meadowlands. The buildings are the centerpiece of a project to reclaim and preserve 2,000 acres of landfillls and polluted waterways, and transform them into a public park.
More from the New York Times here.


June 2
Governor Kean announces that unsafe levels of the toxic chemical dioxin have been discovered in an industrial area of Newark, potentially posing health risks to the public. Governor Kean immediately issues executive order 40, directing the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to take all actions necessary to clean the area. Over the next four months, four more sites around the state are identified as contaminated with dioxin and are added to the list.

August 29
Governor Kean signs the “Worker and Community Right to Know Act” into law, requiring industry to label all substances it uses, hazardous or not, and to make detailed chemical information available to workers, police and firefighters, and state health and environmental officials. The law is one of the strictest in the country as it forces industry to label all substances, rather than only those proven to have harmful effects.
More from the New York Times here.

November 5
Voters overwhelming approve three environment-related public questions during the state legislative elections. The measures approve a $135 million bond issue for acquiring “Green Acres” land for preservation, a $50 million bond issue for shore protection projects, and amending the terms of the 1981 water supply bond issue to allow additional projects.

November 27
Governor Kean creates the Hudson Waterfront Development Committee, a panel of 10-members who will coordinate state and local efforts to develop the Hudson waterfront.
More from the New York Times here.

December 2
In response to elevated levels of radon gas detected in northwestern New Jersey homes, Governor Kean issues executive order number 56, ordering the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to take all steps necessary to protect the public from the dangerous gas.

Governor Kean also issues executive order number 57, ordering all state government entities to institute recycling of waste paper and other materials.


February 9
The Army Corps of Engineers releases a study finding major concerns with New Jersey’s aging water systems and pollution of ground water. The report finds that large and timely rainfalls are the only thing preventing water shortages throughout the state.

May 15
Governor Kean issues executive order number 71, ordering that all development by State Departments and Agencies that takes place on or near freshwater wetlands must receive permits from the State Department of Environmental Protection before proceeding.

June 15
Governor Kean issues executive order number 73, creating the Pinelands Agricultural Commission. The Commission is charged with studying the economic impacts of the Pinelands Act and Comprehensive Management Plan on farms in the Pinelands, with the goal of setting up a sustainable way to preserve farms in the area.


Governor Kean declares 1985 “The year of the Environment.”

April 17
Governor Kean issues executive order 97, declaring a water emergency in Northern New Jersey, and empowering the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to take all steps necessary to end the shortage.

May 16
Governor Kean issues executive order number 102, expanding the water supply emergency to include all of New Jersey.

August 22
Beaches in Cape May County and Monmouth County are forced to close after rainstorms flood aging sewage treatment plants, overwhelming the plants and spilling raw sewage into the ocean. As the sewage washed up on the beaches and the water became contaminated with bacteria, state officials barred swimmers from entering the water.

August 30
Three major New Jersey beaches, Asbury Park, Allenhurst, and Monmouth Beach, are forced to close just before the Labor Day weekend due to extremely high bacteria levels found in the waters. Officials suspect that the bacterial bloom is the result of untreated sewage from New York City being dumped into the ocean. By the end of the summer, beaches have been closed seven times.

November 5
Governor Kean is overwhelming reelected as Governor of New Jersey. Voters also approve four environment-related public questions, including a $190 million bond issue to support local governments’ construction of wastewater treatment plants, an $85 million bond issue to develop sanitary landfill facilities, a $30 million bond issue to support local efforts in the Pinelands, and the terms of the Natural Resources bond issue of 1980.


February 4
Richard T. Dewling is approved by the State Senate to become the State’s new Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

February 6
The Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Monitoring Management announces that it will begin publicizing weekly test results of the water quality at New Jersey’s beaches.

March 27
Governor Kean ends the declared water supply emergency in the state of New Jersey with executive order number 133.

May 27
Governor Kean creates the Governor’s Council on New Jersey Outdoors in executive order number 138. The council is charged with planning for the current and future needs of outdoor space to meet the requirements of the current and future population of the state.

November 4
Voters approve two new environment-related public questions. One amends the 1981 Hazardous Waste Bond, and the other approves a $200 million bond issue to clean up hazardous waste dumps.


Governor Kean signs the state’s first mandatory recycling bill into law.

May 29
Just before Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to the summer, beaches are closed along a 35-mile stretch of New Jersey coastline, as a massive sewage slick washes condoms, fecal matter and plastics ashore. The beaches reopen a couple of days later, but the origins of the contaminants remains undetermined.

June 8
Governor Kean signs executive order 175, placing a moratorium on all development of freshwater wetlands in the state of New Jersey. The order halts development and construction in approximately 300,000 acres in New Jersey, or more than 5% of the state’s land. It is one of the most significant uses of gubernatorial power in the nation’s history.
More from the New York Times here.

June 30
Governor Kean announces plans to create a New Jersey Coastal Commission with broad powers to oversee development along the 128-miles of the state’s shoreline.
More from the New York Times here.

July 1
Governor Kean signs the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act. The State Legislature responded to Kean’s executive order freezing development by passing legislation that had made little progress in 18-months within 30-days. On the same day, dead dolphins begin washing up on the Jersey shore, providing another indication of the level of pollution in the waters off of the New Jersey coast.

August 13
Solid waste from a garbage slick estimated to extend for 50 miles, including syringes, household garbage and pieces of timber, begins washing up along beaches in Ocean County . Just as officials are able to clean the debris, a second wave of garbage washes ashore, keeping beaches closed for up to three days in some areas.

August 30
Governor Kean proposes offering $5000 to anyone who turns in an ocean polluter.

September 14
Governor Kean and New York Governor Mario Cuomo unveil a joint plan to end ocean dumping by 1991. Their plan, which would replace a proposal already being considered in Washington D.C., would collect fees and penalties from localities that continue to dump waste, and place that revenue into a trust fund for research into alternative methods of disposing of sewage waste.

November 3
Voters approve two new environment related public questions. The first is a $100 million bond issue for additional “Green Acres” projects, and the second amends the 1981 Farmland Preservation Bond Act to reduce the restrictions on how the money can be spent.

November 16
State Attorney General W. Cary Edwards announces that New Jersey and New York City have come to an agreement under which New Jersey will not file a lawsuit against the city to seek compensation for city garbage washing up on the New Jersey coast. The city, which maintains that it is not responsible for the garbage, agrees to spend millions of dollars to prevent garbage from two landfills from winding up in the water off the New Jersey coast.

November 17
Governor Kean announces a massive campaign to stop the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean from New Jersey treatment plants. The state plans to spend nearly $200 million in grants in loans to force towns to upgrade treatment plants and prevent future spills.

December 15
Governor Kean signs legislation appropriating $42 million to construct a new aquarium on the banks of the Delaware River in Camden.

December 18
Congress appropriates $1.5 million to investigate the causes of beach closings in New Jersey. The Army Corp of Engineers is tasked with investigating ways to prevent garbage and sewage from polluting New Jersey beaches, as well as protect the beaches from chronic erosion.


July 11
Governor Kean signs seven new laws designed to protect the New Jersey coast from pollution. The new laws include provisions barring off-shore dumping of sewage waste, appropriating money to study the health risks caused by pollution, and increasing state monitoring of coastal sewage treatment plants, among others.
More from the New York Times here.

July 29
Six-miles of Sandy Hook’s beaches are closed due to medical waste washing up on shore, while ten-miles to the south numerous Monmouth County beaches are closed due to raw sewage.

September 8
Richard T. Dewling steps down as the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Chris Daggett assumes the role as Acting Commissioner.

October 3
Governor Kean signs a “certificate of imminent peril” that freezes all development along the New Jersey coast. The governor issued the certificate in lieu of an executive order to signal to need for immediate action to regulate development along the shore. The legislature had been debating a Coastal Commission, similar to the Pinelands Commission, but had made little progress in two years.
More from the New York Times here and here.

October 8
The United States Congress passes the legislation suggested by Governors Kean and Cuomo, ending all ocean dumping after December 31, 1991. Any localities that continue to dump after that date must pay a fine into a trust fund that will fund research into alternative methods of sewage disposal.

October 18
Governor Kean signs executive order 196, creating a permanent Council on Open Space and Outdoor Recreation.

November 3
President Reagan signs new regulations barring the ocean dumping of medical waste and setting up a system to track medical waste into law. The law was sponsored by New Jersey’s delegation in Washington and was designed to prevent future beach closings.

November 20
President Reagan signs into law a revised version of the law banning ocean sewage dumping after 1991.


February 2
Governor Kean signs legislation creating a strict monitoring system for medical waste into law. The new regulations track medical waste from its creation until its disposal, allowing the state to hold illegal dumpers accountable for pollution.

March 14
Chris Daggett is approved as the new Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Daggett had previously served as the Acting Commissioner for nearly 6 months.

March 25
The oil tanker Exxon Valdez crashes into a reef off the coast of Alaska, spilling more than 10 million gallons of oil into the ocean and bringing environmental concerns to the forefront of national attention.

April 11
Governor Kean announces an aggressive new ad campaign that will educate the public about the cleanliness and safety of the state’s beaches. Seeking to counter negative publicity caused by previous years’ beach closings, Kean says that “This new ad campaign won’t just sell sun and surf. It will get the truth out.”

April 24
Governor Kean signs executive order 205, creating a state Commission on Environmental Education.

May 31
Attorney General Peter Perretti files charges against General Marine Transport Corporation, one of three companies chartered to carry sludge to a site 106-miles off the New Jersey coast for legal dumping. The charges contend that the company short-dumped sludge, sometimes within a half-mile of the coast, among 24 other violations. Potential penalties include the seizure of five of the companies tugs and barges, $8.5 million in damages, and a combined 329 years in jail for a company executive and five ship captains.

September 3
Results of an annual survey of shore businesses reveal that, despite a rainy and cool summer, New Jersey beaches experience the highest turnout and profits in three years, as beaches largely remain open and waters remain clear of pollutants.

November 9
Voters approve three new public questions relating to environmental issues. The first is for a $300 million bond issue for farmland acquisition and soil and water conservation projects. The second authorizes a $50 million bond issue to manage storm water and sewer overflows in the state’s waters. The third amends the 1981 and 1986 Hazardous Discharge Bond Acts to permit the revenues to be used for protecting underground drinking water supplies.


January 1
Helen C. Fenske becomes the Acting Commissioner of Environmental Protection for the remainder of Governor Kean’s administration.

January 16
As Governor Kean completes his second term, James J. Florio is sworn in as New Jersey’s 49th governor.