Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Black Eye for DEC

According to yesterday's Post Standard, the Department of Environmental Conservation has admitted to violating federal law by extending water pollution discharge permits without the required review.
In many cases, the DEC allowed five-year permits to be extended more than 20 years without scrutiny. . . .

The Ithaca Wastewater Treatment Facility, which discharges into Cayuga Lake, hasn't received a thorough technical review since 1987. Cayuga Lake provides drinking water for five municipalities in Tompkins County and is dotted with beaches and parks that extend into Cayuga County.

We, of course, have our own dereliction of duty story with Oneida County spilling raw sewage into the Mohawk. (At least we don't have to drink Mohawk River water . . . yet.) Had DEC been on the ball, the violation could have been caught in the early stages.

Predictably, lack of funding and staffing is getting the blame:

"We simply did not have enough staff to grind out extensive technical reviews every five years for all SPDES permits," DEC officials wrote in an agency document.

During Gov. George Pataki's administration, nearly 800 scientists, engineers and enforcement agents were cut from the DEC. By the end of 2006, the agency had only 11.5 people reviewing more than 13,000 permits . . .
Uh . . . Wasn't 1987 before Pataki came to office with his cuts? The Ithaca WWTF permit should have been reviewed again in 1992, before Pataki, but it was not. Since many permits were extended for more than 20 years without scrutiny, the problem certainly seems to predate Pataki and the cuts.

DEC is a big agency with many, many programs. The 800 or so allegedly cut from staff were not all working on water programs and we are not told how many permit reviewers there were before the cuts. If the cuts were so bad, why did the public not hear about these problems with reviews before?

Of course, government officials looking the other way on pollution laws allows for development to occur on the cheap ... The developers cultivate symbiotic relationships with the politicians who run things ... The politicians can point to Development as "progress" and a sign of their leadership abilities. Meanwhile, the developers, who are subsidized by our degraded environment, fatten their profit margins.

I have no doubt that DEC's civil servants are doing the best they can, but they are supervised by political appointees. Look how our Oneida County Consent Order was handled: when the civil servants were pretty much on their own during the change in administrations, action seemed to be taken. After the new crew of appointees started settling in, a resolution was quickly reached . . . one that permitted "development" to occur . . . one that actually gave Oneida County (and New Hartford) credits for work that had already been performed . . . and one that rewarded the largest polluter with a parking lot as an "environmental benefit" project.

The problem with DEC isn't staffing or funding. The problem is politics. . . . and it has been that way no matter which party has been in charge.


Anonymous said...

The DEC has more important things to do, like closing the truck trails in Lewis County to ATV's. This was done with no warning and destroyed a perfectly safe trail system that was not being damaged the way the enviro-nuts would like everyone to believe. But, that doesn't matter. Its all about politics now and what the folks from NYC want.

Grannis needs to be replaced.

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Strike.

Is it just me missing these stories, or are they buried?