[StBernard] Louisiana flunks at enforcing air, water laws, EPA inspector general says

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Dec 13 08:52:06 EST 2011

Louisiana flunks at enforcing air, water laws, EPA inspector general says

Published: Monday, December 12, 2011, 8:40 PM

By Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana is among the worst states at enforcing federal clean air, clean
water and hazardous waste laws, and the Environmental Protection Agency
should either force Louisiana and fellow laggards to do a better job, or
enforce the laws itself, according to a report released Monday by EPA's
inspector general.

The Calumet Specialty Products Partners refinery in Shreveport.

The report does not spotlight specific environmental problems caused by
Louisiana's lax regulatory regime, focusing instead on a broad failure to
carry out required inspections and cite violators. It concludes that the
weak enforcement might be driven in part by "a culture in which the state
agency is expected to protect industry."

Citizen groups have frequently targeted the state agency charged with
enforcing federal environmental laws: the Louisiana Department of
Environmental Quality. One complaint against DEQ in 2001 triggered a
comprehensive audit by the EPA, resulting in major changes in state

Read the report

Inspector general's report: EPA must improve oversight of state enforcement

But even with the changes, Louisiana ranks so low compared with other states
in the percentage of major facilities inspected, the number of violations
found at those facilities, and the frequency in which the state issued a
penalty for violations that the inspector general's office highlighted it in
the new report.

"Although the state has completed the recommended actions, the state's poor
performance persisted," the report said. Louisiana, it notes, still has the
lowest enforcement activity level in EPA's Region 6, which also includes
Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

"State, EPA regional, and external interview responses attributed
Louisiana's poor performance to several factors, including a lack of
resources, natural disasters, and a culture in which the state agency is
expected to protect industry," said the report, signed by EPA Inspector
General Arthur Elkins.

The EPA generally delegates enforcement of federal environmental laws to
state-level agencies. In Louisiana, DEQ has "primacy" in enforcement of the
Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act, which regulates storage and disposal of hazardous waste.

DEQ defends enforcement

DEQ officials said the agency has not had time to review the statistics used
in the inspector general's report. But they said they do not believe the
state's enforcement record is accurately represented.

Spokesman Rodney Mallett said the state contends it has successfully
inspected 50 percent of major permit holders each year, which would be
equivalent to the agency's goal of inspecting 100 percent every two years.

He said the agency issued 1,953 enforcement actions in fiscal year 2001. The
report, however, does not compare total enforcement actions between states.
Instead, it examines the number of actions, and the time taken to issue
them, in comparison to the number of industries regulated, and on those
counts, it found Louisiana lacking.

Enforcement Division Administrator Celena Cage said volunteer educational
programs aimed at improving compliance seem to be working.

"They're not required by any program of EPA, but we're finding that as a
result of those programs that compliance is being achieved at a much higher
rate, and therefore the need for traditional enforcement activities has been
decreased," Cage said.

'An outrage'

The report's criticisms come as no surprise to several Louisiana
environmental groups, including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the
Louisiana Environmental Action Network, both of which have repeatedly pushed
EPA to come down on the state.

A complaint filed by LEAN, which represents more than 100 environmental
groups in the state, led to the 2001 audits.

"It is an outrage that Louisiana is at the bottom of the list for
enforcement even though we are one of the most industrialized states in the
nation," said LEAN Executive Director MaryLee Orr. "This report reinforces
what we have been observing over time. We have been aware over the last
decade that the chemical and oil and gas industry seems to have a constant
presence and influence over decisions that are made by the staff at LDEQ."

The Bucket Brigade have filed successful suits in federal court to enforce
the Clean Air Act against Murphy Oil and Chalmette Refining in St. Bernard

"Both the Murphy and Chalmette refineries were found guilty of violating the
Clean Air Act for violations that had been on the record for years," said
Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes. "They had been sitting in DEQ files
gathering dust for years, when what should have happened was agency
enforcement actions."

Scorecard suggested

The report agrees with the state's contention that comparing the enforcement
records of individual states, as it did, can be difficult, or even
misleading, and recommends that EPA develop metrics to measure state
enforcement activities. Those metrics would be used to develop a state
performance scorecard to track enforcement activity.

The report also recommends giving EPA's Washington-based Office of
Enforcement and Compliance Assurance the authority to oversee a nationwide
enforcement program, rather than the present system, which divides those
duties among 10 regional offices.

The report also recommends establishing "a clear and credible escalation
policy" under which EPA would intervene when states don't enforce federal
environmental laws. One such intervention could have occurred when Louisiana
and EPA manpower was lacking to enforce the federal environmental laws in
the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the report said.


Mark Schleifstein can be reached at mschleifstein at timespicayune.com or

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