Toxic Waters

Great reporting by The New York Times on the appalling state of enforcement (i.e., virtually none) of water quality and safety regulations, at both the state and federal levels, throughout the US:

Quoting The New York Times:

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times.  The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.  State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene. [...]

Some violations are relatively minor.  But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in "significant noncompliance" -- meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments...

"I met our inspector at the spill site, and we had this really awkward conversation," [DEP regulator] Crum recalled.  "I said we should shut down the mine until everything was cleaned up.  The inspector agreed, but he said if he issued that order, he was scared of getting demoted or transferred to the middle of nowhere.  Everyone was terrified of doing their job."

Mr. Crum temporarily shut the mine.

In the next two years, he shut many polluting mines until they changed their ways.  His tough approach raised his profile around the state [of West Virginia]. [...]

In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run the Department of Environmental Protection.  One of West Virginia’s most powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to several people who said they witnessed the conversation.

She was given the job and soon summoned Mr. Crum to her office.  He was dismissed...

The 7-page report focuses on some specific West Virginia problems but deals largely with nationwide issues.  They’ve also compiled a national database of pollution-discharge compliance and violations.

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