With your Permission
EPA, LDEQ come under fire
By Kendra R. ChamberlainPosted Dec 27, 2011
In a critical report released in early December, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General ranked Louisiana in the bottom quartile of states for statute enforcement. Following an EPA investigation into the state’s environmental policies (after a citizens’ petition was filed in 2001) the IG “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,” the report states.
In a wider context, the report is critical of the national enforcement program set forth by the EPA, and calls for the EPA to develop and administer methods to improve state enforcement and consistency.
“...[S]tate enforcement programs frequently do not meet national goals and states do not always take necessary enforcement actions,” the report states. “EPA data indicate that noncompliance is high and the level of enforcement is low.”
The EPA voiced complaints about the report and its conclusions – saying that the IG didn’t have access to all pertinent information and therefore drew incorrect conclusions.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency tasked with enforcement of EPA standards and statutes, bristled at the notion that the department may favor industry over environment.
Responding to an article written in the Times-Picayune, LDEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch wrote a letter to editor, arguing that the IG report, and the Times-Picayune coverage of the report, “provided false and misleading information to the citizens of the state.”
The agency found a number of inaccuracies in the report.
But LDEQ found itself faced with even more criticism a few days later, when the local environmental group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, in conjunction with the Environmental Integrity Project, a national non-profit, filed a “Notice of Deficiency” petition with the EPA.
The petition claims that LDEQ has failed to properly fund the state’s Title V program, which involves implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act. According to the petition, LDEQ fails to issue operating permits to facilities and companies in a timely matter, fails to monitor and assure compliance to the permits, and fails to adequately enforce compliance.
The Title V program requires that every facility acquire an operating permit, either from the state or from the EPA, in which the agency charges a fee to the permitting facility to pay for the agency’s operation. Congress set a presumptive minimum of around $40 per ton of regulated pollutant in a permit.
The fees work like this. A facility will add up the amount (in tons) of the regulated pollutants, and then multiply by a dollar figure. In Louisiana, LDEQ charges a number of fees for different components of the permit.
LDEQ is quick to point out that the department uses zero public money, but the Bucket Brigade and EIP petition asserts that LDEQ collects “around $15” – less than half of the federal suggestion. That means they haven’t anywhere near the resources they need.
“The state does tell us, on occasion, that they don’t have the resources to execute their programs,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Bucket Brigade.
The petition asserts that LDEQ spends only around $4 million a year to implement the Title V program. The department, however, has disputed those numbers.
“We spend about $8 million and we bring in about $10 million,” said Rodney Mallett, communications director for LDEQ. Other officials from the department have questioned where petitioners EIP and the Bucket Brigade found the numbers used in their petition.
Sparsh Khandeshi, an attorney for EIP, said the low, $4 million figure was provided to him by a public records clerk at LDEQ.
“Even if they did spend that much, it’s well under what they’re required to spend,” Khandeshi said during a phone interview. Rolfes agreed, calling the state a “laggard” when it comes to environmental protection and enforcement.
Both LDEQ and the EPA seem to have fallen into bed together in defense of Louisiana’s pollution regulation, and have fallen out of favor of environmental groups – both national and local – for their practices.
“They [the petitioners] are misrepresenting the information,” Mallett said. “The EPA has looked at our Title V program, and the EPA approved it.”