Massachusetts is enforcing environmental rules less: How the Department of Environmental Protection is affected by budget cuts
According to The Boston Globe, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s enforcement of air and water quality regulations has fallen off sharply over the past decade, as the agency’s workforce has shrunk by nearly a third. Statistics show that enforcement actions for serious violations have dropped significantly, inspections have also declined, and fines collected from the violators have plummeted by nearly 75 percent.
Since the Trump administration is considering whether to cut the federal EPA budget in conjunction with transferring some responsibilities to the states, these indicators can drop even more. Ken Kimmell, who served as DEP commissioner during Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, said that “cutting EPA’s budget will mean less environmental cops on the beat, and states are in no position to pick up the slack.”
Mentioned reduction of performance is not new and has been ongoing for the past decade. Martin Suuberg, the agency’s commissioner, said that the administration wasn’t purposely reducing its enforcement of environmental regulations. George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, also does not think that the reduced oversight is intentional, but rather that it is the inevitable result of chronic budget cuts.
By the time David Cash, who is now the Dean of McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston, took over as commissioner in 2014, the agency had lost more than 400 employees from its peak of 1,173 employees in 2000. “At the time, we already had inadequate staffing to adequately carry out inspections in our waste program, so inspections to assure compliance of the new organics program were not as robust as they should have been,” Cash said.
Today, there are about 655 employees and Suuberg believes that the added responsibilities wouldn’t further compromise the agency’s oversight capacity.