Enforcement Action Against International Paper Inexplicably Dropped
NRCM news release
The Natural Resources Council of Maine today announced the results of an investigation of a proposed reorganization of the Bureau of Remediation and Hazardous Waste at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The investigation found evidence that two Maine State legislators may have exerted political influence in an attempt to restructure Maine’s hazardous waste program and to secure personnel changes of civil servants at the Department.
One of the lawmakers, Rep. Tom Saviello (I-Wilton), serves as environmental manager for International Paper, which is regulated by DEP’s hazardous waste bureau. The other lawmaker, Rep. Bob Daigle (R-Arundel), formerly worked for a manufacturing firm, Cyro Industries, which was subject to state and federal hazardous waste laws. Rep. Daigle currently is a consultant to companies that fall under DEP’s environmental laws. Both legislators serve on the Natural Resources Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over the Department of Environmental Protection.
NRCM launched the investigation based on concerns that a proposed restructuring of DEP’s hazardous waste bureau could weaken Maine’s enforcement of hazardous waste laws, in a fashion that could increase toxic threats to Maine people, workers, and the environment. The Council also was concerned about whether a potential shortfall in funding of the hazardous waste bureau was being addressed in a fashion to ensure continued enforcement, inspections, and implementation of Maine’s hazardous waste laws.
NRCM’s investigation involved an exhaustive analysis of documents obtained pursuant to a November 10, 2005, Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request. NRCM uncovered documents indicating that political pressure from Rep. Saviello and Rep. Daigle was a primary factor behind the proposed internal restructuring of the hazardous waste bureau. Documents reveal that the legislators had a list of specific DEP staff members who they were concerned about, and that the two legislators may have been using their influence as members of the Natural Resources Committee to push both personnel changes and a restructuring at DEP that would be beneficial to industry. The proposed reorganization would place the Department’s Pollution Prevention staff in a position of managing those personnel responsible for regulating and enforcing Maine’s hazardous waste laws. Because the Pollution Prevention staff focuses on voluntary compliance programs, NRCM believes that such a restructuring would weaken DEP’s enforcement program.
The investigation also identified documents suggesting that enforcement actions against International Paper were dropped due to political interference by Rep. Saviello or by senior officials at the DEP. Of particular concern is an unexplained decision by DEP to drop any compliance action against International Paper for violations of Maine’s Hazardous Waste Law identified by DEP enforcement staff in October 2003. Rep. Saviello appeared to attempt to prevent DEP staff from performing an unannounced inspection of the International Paper mill in Jay where Mr. Saviello serves as the environmental manager. DEP inspectors were able to conduct the inspection on October 7, 2003, and documented a series of violations. Typically, DEP would send a Notice of Violation letter to a company with documented hazardous waste violations. Inexplicably, in this case DEP only drafted a Notice of Warning, and then even the Notice of Warning was never sent due to further instruction by DEP Hazardous Waste Bureau Director Steve Davis to forgo any compliance action.
NRCM is concerned that Rep. Saviello’s membership on the Natural Resources Committee may have influenced this decision by DEP not to take enforcement actions that otherwise would have been taken against his employer, International Paper, for violations of Maine’s environmental laws for which he, as IP’s environmental manager, was responsible. It is not clear whether the interference came from Rep. Saviello or from senior DEP managers, but what is clear is that IP received preferential treatment that is not available to other companies that have violated the law.
“The results of this investigation are deeply troubling,” said NRCM Executive Director Brownie Carson. “It appears that legislators have been tampering with the internal operations of the Department of Environmental Protection, including trying to secure personnel changes. This is particularly worrisome because the two legislators in question are associated with companies regulated by DEP, and because the Department needs to secure legislation during the year ahead to address budget shortfalls in the hazardous waste bureau. We believe the issues identified in our investigation deserve more detailed scrutiny and analysis to determine whether any laws have been broken, or, if not, whether Maine’s governmental ethics statute should be amended to prevent such activities in the future. DEP’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment must not be compromised by political influence,” Carson added.
Copies of key documents obtained through the FOAA request are available on request.