Few Water Polluters Fined, New Study Shows

Sept. 23, 2003

Of more than 4,000 water pollution reporting violations in the past three years, only 1 percent resulted in fines from regulators, reveals a California study released today.

According to a report by Don Thompson of The Associated Press, the Environment California Research and Policy Center study backs a pending bill awaiting Gov. Gray Davis' signature that would require fines of $3,000 a month for facilities that do not submit reports detailing their violations.

Supporters said that would augment current state law requiring fines of $3,000 per day for "serious and chronic" violations of the state's Clean Water Act.

"Pollution reports reveal who is breaking the law," the study's primary author, Sujatha Jahagirdar, said in remarks prepared for today's release. "Without them, our clean water laws mean nothing."

Assembly member Cindy MontaInez, D-San Fernando, who authored the legislation, said failing to file the required reports lets polluters "get away with hiding their pollution of our lakes, rivers and streams."

Compliance, enforcement and the amount of pollution violation fines collected have increased "dramatically" under a 1999 law that beefed up the Clean Water Act, according to the Environment California study.

That law also requires facilities with permits to discharge wastewater into state waterways to self-report any violations by submitting monthly reports detailing the quantity and quality of their releases.

The lack of mandatory fines for not filing those reports encourages polluters to ignore their own violations to avoid punishment, the environmental group concluded.

Of 4,071 reporting failures between July 1999 and September 2002, a mere 42 brought fines, the study found. None of the 53 violations in the San Francisco region resulted in fines, for instance.

State Water Resources Control Board spokeswoman Beth Jines said the statistics are incomplete because not all of the state's nine regional water boards have submitted their enforcement record for a new statewide database.

Based on the existing data, Environment California found municipal dischargers have more pollution violations, but industrial and agricultural facilities commit 70 percent more reporting violations.

A spokesman for Davis said the governor had not yet decided whether to sign the bill into law.

Legislative opponents said the measure would unfairly hurt dairies and feedlots, and contains no distinction between paperwork violations and pollution violations.

Senate analysts predicted the bill, if it becomes law, would bring about $100,000 annually in additional fines.

Source: The Oakland Tribune