Crombie wants environmental enforcement law reform

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(Host) Vermont’s Natural Resources Secretary wants the legislature to hold off changing the state’s environmental enforcement laws.

Secretary George Crombie says he first wants a chance to reform the program himself.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Environmental enforcement has been in the spotlight recently because of a pair of reports that suggested the state may not be doing enough to punish polluters.

The first report, by the Conservation Law Foundation, said that only 18% of confirmed violations resulted in formal enforcement actions. The Environmental Protection Agency also reviewed the program and said some of the state penalties may not be strong enough to prevent problems in the future.

The allegations of a weak enforcement effort prompted East Montpelier Representative Tony Klein to introduce a bill that would overhaul the program. He described the legislation in a Statehouse interview.

(Klein) “Penalties would have to be financial in nature and not just mitigation in nature. Companies that were seeking additional permits for any type of development would not be issued those permits if there was something that was ongoing in a previous project that they were involved in that has not been mitigated to completion.”

(Dillon) The bill also includes a citizen suit provision that would allow members of the public to go to court to enforce environmental laws.

But Agency of Natural Resources Secretary George Crombie is asking for a little time before lawmakers start to re-work the program.

Crombie was appointed in December. He says he’s ordered a comprehensive review of how the agency enforces environmental laws.

(Crombie) “I’m hopeful that the Legislature will give us an opportunity to take a look at the agency ourselves from an enforcement point of view and then be able to come back with recommendations on what we propose to enhance or improve our enforcement in the future.”

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation hopes the Legislature won’t delay its review. CLF lawyer Anthony Iarrapino says it’s been 18 years since lawmakers revised the enforcement laws.

(Iarrapino) “So why not look at it again now that these many years have passed, now that CLF’s report is out there, and EPA’s report is out there, identifying opportunities to strengthen what should be the centerpiece of Vermont’s environmental protection scheme? I think it’s very appropriate take a look at this now.”

(Dillon) Secretary Crombie says he’ll put together a group within the agency to look at the entire enforcement program. He wants the review to include the various legal tools now used by agency lawyers, such as informal notices of violations.

Crombie says he wants to move the discussion beyond the dollar amount of the fines that the state collects, and look at the broader question of how effectively the program protects the environment. He says the review should be finished by the fall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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