DEP records fewer penalties in fiscal year
BY DIANA BOWLEY
OF THE NEWS STAFF
AUGUSTA — The state’s depressed economy last fiscal year not only shuttered mills, increased the unemployment rolls and caused some families to become homeless. It also had a ripple effect on the Department of Environmental Protection’s penalty collection.
The DEP saw reduced penalties and violations of the state’s environmental laws and regulations for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. There were 62 violations during that time which amounted to $470,281 in penalties. In comparison, there were 83 violations the previous year, resulting in about $1 million in penalties.
The penalties and the violations, which were a direct result of either administrative consent agreements or court action, stemmed from violations of air, land, water and waste management regulations.
“There were significantly fewer [violations and penalties],” which is good, Peter Carney, the DEP’s director of procedures and enforcement, said Tuesday. “We don’t know why for sure, but we speculate that it’s the economy.”
The poor economy may have resulted in less construction this year, and construction is where most of the violations occur, he said. Additionally, some larger manufacturers have reduced operations while others have gone bankrupt, he added.
The penalty money goes either into the state’s General Fund or for specific DEP accounts, depending on where the funds were generated, or for supplemental environmental projects allowed by state statute, according to Carney. An example of a specific DEP account would be an oil or groundwater fund, he noted. A supplemental environmental project engaged in last year was the pharmaceutical collection of outdated and unused medicines.
While Carney said state budget officials plan on those penalty funds to help with projects, the DEP does not rely on them to any great extent because they represent such a small amount, and the amount fluctuates from year to year.
Asked whether pressure was placed on the field staff to find violations since the state has budget woes and the extra revenue would be helpful, Carney responded “no.” The field and enforcement staffs may be involved in the penalty stage, but they are not typically involved in the state’s budgeting process, he said.
“There is certainly no pressure from anywhere to collect penalties for the sake of the state budget,” he said.
Many of the violations that result in penalties are discovered in reports which some larger regulated industries must file according to state statute, Carney noted. About 90 percent of those violations are resolved administratively, while a handful are settled in court, he said.
He added that many lesser violations are resolved informally in the field by staff.
“In Maine, we typically don’t see patterns of really egregious violations,” Carney said. For the most part, people want to abide by the environmental laws, he said.
To view the DEP’s monthly enforcement actions, visit www.maine.gov/dep/oc/mcar/