Standing at the site of Delaware’s most infamous environmental disaster, lawmakers and Attorney General Joseph "Beau” Biden III announced legislation improving the state’s ability to crack down on businesses that habitually ignore Delaware’s environmental laws.
Standing at the site of Delaware’s most infamous environmental disaster, lawmakers and Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden III announced legislation improving the state’s ability to crack down on businesses that habitually ignore Delaware’s environmental laws.
Biden, Sen. David McBride (D-Hawks Nest), Rep. Michael Mulrooney (D-Pennwood) and Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Collin O’Mara spoke outside the now-shuttered Delaware City site of Metachem Products, which went bankrupt in 2002. The bankruptcy forced taxpayers to bear the full cost of the cleanup. That bill is now in excess of $100 million.
Federal officials have said it could take a century or more to clean up the Metachem site. Before going under, Metachem battled state and federal efforts to make it help pay the costs of cleaning up the site, which today is fenced off with warning signs telling people the health risks of venturing onto the grounds.
“This is going to put more teeth in the law we’ve already got,” said Sen. David McBride (D-Hawks Nest) the lead sponsor the measure, which will be introduced later this week. “We want any business that thinks they can ignore our laws or who think they can shrug off fines as ‘a cost of doing business’ that we’re coming after them and that we mean business.”
McBride, chairman of the Senate’s Natural Resources and Environmental Control Committee, has been a longtime champion of efforts to crack down on polluters. Biden praised his efforts to protect the environment and said the bill isn’t designed to cramp the state’s business climate.
Biden praised the legislators for joining his effort to tighten and improve the law.
“Those who repeatedly violate Delaware's environmental laws steal from us the ability to enjoy Delaware's natural resources,” Biden said. “Sen. McBride, Rep.Mulrooney and I are fighting for strong and effective enforcement laws to protect Delaware's citizens and our natural resources from those who would destroy our environment.”
The proposal refines the law, last updated in 2003, by:
• Clarifying that chronic violator status applies to parties that demonstrating either an inability or an unwillingness to comply with Delaware law, or to parties that appear to treat environmental penalties simply as a business expense rather than an environmental threat it must correct.
• Broadening and expanding the standards and criteria DNREC uses to declare a chronic violator from current standards, which define a chronic violator as a party engaged in a pattern of willful neglect or disregard with respect to DNREC requirements, to include parties that have not adequately funded or modernized their operations, maintenance, training programs and risk management reviews and to parties that have not used recognized and generally accepted engineering and other industry practices to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
• Giving DNREC subpoena power to enforce the law and making technical revisions that update it by clarifying meanings, and making language within the law consistent.
• Updating DNREC's authority to amend and modify chronic violator regulations and enhances administrative penalties for violators. It significantly increases financial penalties from the current maximum of $10,000 per day to $10,000 for each separate release of each identifiable pollutant. This increased penalty could be substantially higher and acts as a more effective deterrent.
O’Mara said he thinks the changes to the law will strengthen his department’s ability to enforce the law.
“Delaware is a great place to locate for companies that want to work hard and play by fair rules. Chronic polluters don't,” O'Mara said. “They try and give themselves an unfair economic advantage by skirting the law. It's not fair to their competitors. It's not safe for their neighbors, and it's not something we will tolerate. This legislation will serve as an important tool to help us clean up our environment and protect the health of residents.”
Mulrooney, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said the legislation would hold chronic violators accountable and protect taxpayers against bearing the burden of cleanup costs.
“DNREC has done its best to make these violators follow our laws, but have been frustrated in their attempts to use what could be a very useful tool,” Mulrooney said. “We hope that these changes will make violators think twice before disregarding our laws and will finally give DNREC the authority to deal with businesses whose irresponsibility damages our environment and leaves taxpayers holding the tab.”