Boston – Governor Mitt Romney’s plan to lay off hundreds of state attorneys will drastically reduce enforcement of environmental and public health laws, according to state penalty data released today by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility(New England PEER).State records indicate that environmental penalties brought in millions of dollars to state coffers from polluting companies in 2001, money that may be lost under the new plan.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) currently employs 36 full-time attorneys to implement and enforce the Commonwealth’s environmental health and anti-pollution laws. These attorneys prosecute violations of clean air and water laws, oversee removal of hazardous wastes, and file actions to protect wetlands and fragile coastal areas. Each DEP attorney works hand in hand with enforcement staff on all phases of enforcement actions, and each carries caseloads of up to 60 cases per year in various stages of prosecution.
Governor Romney has declared that as many as half of the state’s 800 attorneys will be laid off this year. Any remaining lawyers would be pulled out of their individual agencies and placed in a separate legal department overseen by a proposed Office of Solicitor General (OSG) in the Governor’s office. The almost certain result of the Romney plan will be the termination of many environmental prosecutors and the reassignment of the remainder to handle more generalized work in the Governor’s office.
DEP employees claim that any reductions in their already chronically understaffed unit will mean that important cases will have to be dropped and that complex cases will be much harder to bring in the future. For example, the reduction and transfer of DEP attorneys to the Office of Solicitor General will jeopardize the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division’s ability to bring quality civil environmental cases. DEP attorneys refer these environmental cases to the AG, play a critical role in the development of the cases, and provide the necessary expertise to try the cases.
“DEP’s attorneys more than recoup their salaries, thus this move is the essence of penny wise and pound foolish,” commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, whose organization represents DEP employees. “DEP attorneys make up the front line of defense against polluters and public health threats.”
Bennett noted that Romney is moving ahead without any analysis of how many attorneys the agency needs and how much of the annual environmental fine revenue will be lost-revenue that totaled more than $2.6 million in 2001 and $3.4 million in 2002.”Sacking the enforcement staff sends an unmistakable signal that this Governor is willing to take the pollution cop off the beat,” Bennett, a former EPA official, stated.
Contact PEER for the penalty collection data for 2001 and 2002.