2015-12-10 / News

Environmental agency calls for enforcement funding

In an open letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, Save The Bay asked her to “use the upcoming budget to give our environmental agencies badly needed resources to enforce the law for the good of Narragansett Bay, the economy and public health.”

“The Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council no longer have the resources they need to prevent damage to our environment,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of the environmental group. “Enforcing environmental laws in a timely and consistent fashion protects our natural resources, safeguards public health and ensures a fair and level playing for the business community.”

The governor’s budget will be presented to the General Assembly in early February. Save The Bay is specifically asking Raimondo to give both state agencies additional staff to enforce environmental laws in a timely, fair and consistent fashion, says Stone.

Under prior administrations, enforcement capacity has been reduced significantly. Staffing levels at both agencies are insufficient to meet their respective enforcement responsibilities, he said.

According to Stone, staff levels at the DEM offices of compliance, legal services and water resources have been reduced respectively by 37, 33 and 25 percent. Moreover, a July 2014 review of the department by the federal Environmental Protection Agency included several statements citing insufficient resources for enforcement. The review noted that DEM needs additional resources to process, negotiate and finalize enforcement cases. Also, there are resource constraints within the compliance office that present an obstacle to implementing enforcement, he said. According to the office chief, David Chopy, there are “just two inspectors covering the entire state.” Therefore, he continued, the department “cannot immediately respond to some complaints.”

As for lawyers, according to Stone, former state environmental director Jan Reitsma was quoted in a November article saying the department doesn’t have sufficient legal help. “DEM doesn’t have enough lawyers,” she said. “So why would a business pay a fine when they know negotiations will wear out and the cost will go down?”

“This is not a problem that Gov. Raimondo created,” said Stone. “We applaud her efforts to promote economic growth and create a business climate that attracts investment and jobs. We look to Gov. Raimondo to lead Rhode Island into a new era where protecting our environment is a cornerstone of Rhode Island’s economic comeback.”

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