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E-M:/ water pollution enforcement

Enviro-Mich message from davemec@sojourn.com (dave dempsey)

While proclaiming its commitment to environmental enforcement, the
Department of Environmental Quality did not deny numbers showing a
significant decline in staff assigned to water pollution cases and a drop
in money collected in water pollution cases at a legislative oversight
hearing this week.

Called in part to respond to Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith's concern about an
internal enforcement memo from former Surface Water Quality Division Chief
Bob Miller to DEQ Director Russell Harding, the hearing centered on
Miller's assertions that enforcement is in bad shape.

Miller's April 11 memo said "inspections and enforcement are already
dramatically reduced," and threatened by further reductions which would
have "further severe impact."  He noted that total penalties per year
peaked at $1.879 million in 1993 but declined to $714,950 in 1996.
Compliance inspections dropped from 117 in 1994 to 74 in 1996;
reconnaissance inspections plunged from 575 in 1992 to 369 in 199, and
pretreatment inspections and audits dropped from 99 in 1992 to 51 in 1996.

The DEQ response from Director Harding consisted of the following points:

*  Year-to-year trends can be misleading;  enforcement should be measured
over the long term.
*  If 1 or 2 settlements pending are consummated this year, the 1997
penalties collected total could be a record.
*  Enforcement is not the way a program should be measured;  compliance
should be the measure.
*  Michigan has 95% compliance from industrial dischargers and 85% from
municipal dischargers.

Enforcement Chief Tom Rohrer said the news media is focusing on the amount
of civil fines, which makes the enforcement program appear weaker than it
is, and noted several successful enforcement initiatives.  He also
indicated that the City of Detroit and Dow Chemical enforcement actions
consumed large amounts of staff time during the last several years and due
to adverse court decisions, resulted in only $100,000 in fines.

When asked by Sen. Smith whether enforcement was increasing or decreasing,
Harding and Rohrer said it was fairly level.  But the DEQ acknowledged that
half (or 3) of the professional staff positions in the Division are vacant,
hobbling the Division's capability.  Miller's numbers were not
substantially disputed.

DEQ said its biggest concern is the number of aging municipal wastewater
treatment facilities which are nearing the end of their design life and may
result in serious water quality problems without increased future funding.

Dave Dempsey
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A
Lansing, MI  48912
(517) 487-9539
(517) 487-9541 (fax)

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