The Commonwealth of Massachusetts cracked down on environmental violators at a record pace in the last fiscal year, hiking enforcement actions by 54 percent and assessed penalties by 49 percent. These results were achieved even as costs were reduced by nearly one-third at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“Innovative programs and cutting-edge technologies are being used today to protect our environment,” Governor Mitt Romney said. “Massachusetts will continue to be a national leader in environmental protection by utilizing these new tools to target environmental scofflaws.”
Romney pointed out that DEP hit a five-year peak in higher-level enforcement actions and in the assessment of administrative penalties last fiscal year. These gains were realized as DEP trimmed its workforce by 24 percent and reduced its operating budget by 28 percent over the last three years. Currently, DEP has an annual budget of approximately $50 million with 920 employees.
In Fiscal Year 2004, enforcement actions increased by 54 percent over Fiscal Year 2003, from 600 to 922. This is 40 percent higher than the five-year enforcement average of 656.
Over the same period, administrative penalties increased by 49 percent, from $2,819,046 to $4,205,600. Total penalty dollars – including civil and criminal fines obtained in court – rose from $3,712,171 to $11,116,850.
These dramatic new results are a result of DEP’s focus on compliance and enforcement in three areas targeting activities with high potential for environmental harm and human health risk: illegal wetlands destruction; illegal removal, handling and disposal of hazardous asbestos waste; and enforcement against owners of contaminated urban sites who fail to fulfill their cleanup obligations.
“The message has been delivered: if you are out there destroying the environment, we will find you and you will pay a hefty price for your non-compliance,” said DEP Commissioner Robert W. Golledge Jr.
The targeted approach to environmental enforcement demonstrates the role that information, enhanced technology and quick response will continue to play in the Department of Environmental Protection’s enforcement efforts:
· The Wetlands Enforcement Initiative utilized aerial photography and computer interpretation to discover more than 25 acres of illegal wetland filling, resulting in more than $638,000 in penalties, orders to restore wetlands, and two additional cases referred to the Attorney General’s Office for civil prosecution.
· The Asbestos Enforcement Sweep included weekend sweeps of asbestos removal operations at schools during school vacation week, resulting in 77 higher-level enforcement cases and $2.1 million in administrative penalties against contractors who illegally removed and disposed of hazardous asbestos waste.
· The Urban Area Compliance Assurance strategy deployed a range of enforcement and assistance tools and forced cleanup action at 13 long dormant contaminated waste sites with recalcitrant property owners, improving environmental quality in urban areas across the Commonwealth.
“Massachusetts should be applauded for using innovative techniques and high technology solutions to increase enforcement and protect wetlands and other important resources,” said Laura A. Johnson, president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.