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Front Page » December 11, 2003 » Local News » Declining pollution citations concern preservation groups
Published 4,279 days ago

Declining pollution citations concern preservation groups

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Staff reporter

In June 1960, Robert Burgener of the Utah Department of Health warned Carbon County that the 650,000 gallons of raw sewage the area was dumping in the Price River daily was a threat to the public.

Dumping the raw sewage posed a threat not only to the health of local residents and people downstream, but also created problems for private property owners along the waterway.

In the years since, a modern waste water treatment plant has been built through the Price River Water Improvement District, an agency which was being put into existence about the time that Burgener issued his statement.

Since the 1960's water pollution in the United States has fallen dramatically.

Legislation to promote pollution control and to severely punish industry and municipalities for not obeying pollution laws were passed during that time.

Spurred on by the environmental movement and individual high profile incidents that demonstrated the extent of the problem, such as a river that caught fire in Ohio because of the volume of pollutants in the stream, the U.S. Congress decided something needed to be done.

Eventually, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was organized and became the enforcing body of the laws that control all kinds of pollution.

Since that time, myriads of legislation and regulations have come down the pike, seeking to control everything from the carbon monoxide in the air to the dust particles stirred up when a building is being demolished.

But in recent years, the fear of the federal agency issuing a citation for ignoring pollution controls has declined, primarily because the number of citations has gone down.

Some people claim the number is dropping because pollution controls have become common place and effective. Other people think the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., has changed things.

According to a Knight Ridder study about the situation, the political parties are not at the root of the matter.

Most people would expect that a higher number of citations would be issued when a Democratic administration was seated in the White House.

But in evaluating the situation, the study showed that the highest number of citations issued per month actually took place during the George H.W. Bush administration in the early 1990's.

However, the number of citations issued in pollution situations has steadily declined during the current Bush's term as the leader of the United States.

According to the study, monthly violation notices have dropped 58 percent since January 2001, a time when Bill Clinton was still the president.

The lack of citations coming in shows that enforcement is just not a priority, according to environmental groups.

But citations are only one part of the picture.

While the number of citations have decreased significantly, the prosecution of the cases and the fines levied have also dropped, but not as much.

Pollution cases referred for prosecution are down 5 percent and the civil penalties are lower by 6 percent.

The reason for the drop, maintain EPA officials, is the federal agency is working more closely with industry and business to solve problems rather than always using a heavy hand to get things done.

But some critics contend that the lower numbers of citations can be compared with traffic enforcement.

There are always people speeding on most streets at some time of the day, but if the cop is not on the beat it continues and grows.

With former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt taking the helm at the Environmental Protection Agency, some people feel the trend of less citations will accelerate because they see his record on pollution control as being very weak.

Leavitt's philosophy in Utah has been to work within industry to make changes, rather than take an adversarial role.

Some think he has harmful philosophies when it comes to pollution. Leavitt is an advocate of "Enlibra" principles. The principles for environmental management were set up by the Western Governors Association.

The principles seek greater participation and collaboration in decision-making, focus on outcomes rather than just programs, and recognize the need for a variety of tools beyond regulation that will improve the environment.

Leavitt, as a key part of the association, has championed a constitutional amendment to give states more power.

The former Utah governor has continually voiced unhappiness about federal officials micro-managing the states affairs.

But environmental groups feel that, without a strong federal role, weak national enforcement can lead to low standards of environmental protection.

The groups also feel that weak national enforcement can create pollution havens within states or certain areas of the country.

"Cost benefit analyses are also a concern because they frequently overestimate the cost of regulations, while underestimating the environmental and health benefits (such as the value of human life), and so can also be used to weaken protections," notes the Greenwire, an environmental information base.

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