ENFORCEMENT, EDUCATION, COMPLIANCE
AND THE SHORELAND ZONE
Roberta Scruggs, Lakes Environmental Association
Maggie Shannon, Maine COLA
Over the past year, Mainers have probably read, talked and written more about enforcement of environmental laws than ever before. But in all that discussion, very little has been said about the key question:
Does the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have the resources to effectively enforce Maine’s environmental laws?
That’s why the Congress of Lake Associations and Lakes Environmental Association recently asked the state’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) to review whether DEP is enforcing environmental laws in the most effective, efficient and economical manner possible.
We have two major concerns about enforcement.
First, DEP’s funding and staffing hasn’t kept up with increased threats to Maine’s environment. From 2001 to 2005, DEP’s general fund revenues dropped 37 percent – from $10 million to $6.29 million. Since 2003, the department’s staff has declined from about 460 to 436. With more federal budget cuts proposed, DEP’s resources may decline even further.
Second, we wonder if DEP’s reliance on education and assistance, rather than what one recent department report termed “a threatening enforcement posture,” is effective in deterring violators.
These issues have been discussed with growing concern by those who advocate for Maine’s environment. For example:
• In a recent survey by COLA and the Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research, lake associations identified poor enforcement as one of the top issues affecting our waters.
• Last December, the Natural Resources Council of Maine issued a report criticizing DEP’s plan to reorganize its hazardous-waste enforcement staff, saying that would dilute enforcement and leave Maine’s people and environment at greater risk of pollution. The report followed criticism that DEP bends too easily to political pressure and is not aggressive enough with polluters.
• In a 2004 report by the Environment Maine Research and Policy Center, groups such as the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League and Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility asked DEP to better enforce its regulations in hopes of reducing risks to public health and discouraging future pollution. “Without the threat of penalties, there’s no incentive for facilities to solve their pollution problems,” the report said.
• In 2003, the Conservation Law Foundation reviewed discharge records from sewage treatment plants and industrial plants along Maine’s coast and reported some facilities repeatedly exceeded discharge limits for bacteria or metals, but were not subjected to appropriate fines or corrective orders by DEP. “There were clearly situations where facilities were crying out for enforcement and it just wasn’t being done,” Chris DeScherer, a CLF staff advocate, told the Portland Press Herald. “There have been fines, but not the type of fines that would give a facility the economic incentive to actually come into compliance.”
We believe an independent analysis by OPEGA would be of immense help as the Legislature and Maine’s citizens allocate resources, prioritize programs and improve policies to protect our environment.
If you have specific information relating to enforcement of environmental laws designed to protect water quality, we would appreciate hearing from you.