When the sun beats down this summer, beach lovers may have a hard time finding that perfect place on the sand because New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection is abdicating its responsibility to ensure beach access.

The DEP is letting Shore towns, some of which have been hostile to tourists, write their own beach-access plans. The agency is providing so few guidelines that advocates rightly worry that citizens' lawsuits pressing for access could be lost causes.

Even if the DEP were to reject a town's beach-access plan, there are no real consequences. The state says it would be more difficult for towns to get shorefront replenishment funds, but not impossible. The DEP hasn't addressed the wily town that might take the money and then change its access plan to be more prohibitive.

While there are 1,200 paths to New Jersey's 127-mile coastline, beach access is a lot more complicated. Shore towns have kept day-trippers at bay by restricting parking. Some eliminate it altogether, charge a high price to park, or impose a time limit. Towns also keep families away by not providing enough restrooms. Try explaining that to a toddler.

The current access dispute started when the Corzine administration tried to withhold shorefront erosion funds from Avalon unless it provided restrooms, parking, and beach paths every quarter-mile. Avalon sued, and won in 2008. But rather than write reasonable access guidelines, the Christie administration punted the job to the Shore towns.

New Jersey is entrusted by law with ensuring public access to the ocean. Gov. Christie must live up to that obligation.

The public pays to protect the beaches through state and federal taxes. Beach-goers fuel the state's $38 billion in tourism. Providing a place to park and a restroom is a small price to pay for the public's investment.