Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify on behalf of our 20,000 members and supporters in support of LD 1789, An Act to Restore the Authority of the Board of Environmental Protection.
We strongly support reassigning back to the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) the rulemaking and enforcement responsibilities that were transferred from the Board to the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2011, pursuant to LD 1, the so-called “Act to Ensure Regulatory Fairness and Reform.”
Since 2011, the development and adoption of routine technical rules by the DEP has become an “insiders’ game” in which only the Department and highly engaged stakeholders know what’s going on. Even though routine technical rules often involve very significant environmental issues, the process has been hidden from view. It’s been hard to find draft rules on the DEP website and hard for the public to provide meaningful input, let alone affect the language in a draft rule.
The public has had to file requests for a public hearing on a draft rule, and when hearings have been granted, they’ve been held in a room in the AMHI complex that’s been difficult for the public to find. For many people trying to affect a draft rule, it has seemed like the process has been rigged to reduce opportunities for public input.
That may have been the intent of LD 1, but it doesn’t make for good policymaking. We support bringing routine technical rules back before the BEP where they can be addressed in the light of day, with greater openness, transparency, scrutiny, and public engagement.
The same is true regarding enforcement activities. Before 2011, the BEP was responsible for approving consent agreements for enforcement actions and for providing the DEP with input on enforcement priorities and the adequacy of enforcement penalties. Here again, we believe that LD 1 had the effect of reducing transparency and oversight.
Maine people want to know that our environmental laws are being enforced, and that the regulated industry knows that violations of our laws will result in penalties—which includes public exposure.
Over the past eight years, enforcement activities by the DEP have plummeted. As demonstrated by the monthly enforcement reports posted on the DEP website, there have been many months in recent years when the DEP reported no enforcement actions. This is a sharp departure from the past, and we do not believe it is the result of universal compliance with Maine’s environmental laws. Rather, we believe it reflects a decision by the prior administration to diminish the role of enforcement.
One way to address this problem is for the DEP to restore its role of conducting inspections, providing technical assistance to ensure compliance, issuing notices of violation, and, when necessary, vigorously pursuing enforcement actions. We are confident that the current DEP leadership understands the importance of enforcement to the integrity of our environmental laws. No entities should come to believe that they can violate our environmental laws with impunity, with minor fines that simply amount to a minor cost of doing business, or with the knowledge that their violations will avoid public notice.
Oversight of consent agreements by the BEP sends an important signal to the regulated community that significant violations will be discussed in public, as part of the BEP agenda and meetings, and may even get reported by the media. By restoring enforcement authorities to the BEP, this bill will help elevate enforcement activities back to the same level of importance and transparency as the Department’s permitting and rulemakings responsibilities.
In summary, we believe the time has come to restore rulemaking oversight back to the BEP. Doing so will improve the rulemaking process through increased transparency and opportunities for public comment, thus strengthening the integrity of Maine’s environmental laws and further protecting our environment. This bill also helps ensure that enforcement is a top-tier responsibility for the DEP and its oversight body, the Board of Environmental Protection.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 1789. We urge you to vote Ought to Pass on the bill, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.