As the new director of the state's Department of Environmental Quality, Dennis H. Treacy is taking a look at a program that allows polluters to spend money on environmental projects instead of paying fines.
Since he was appointed acting director in March, Treacy has put three projects on hold to give him time to study the program and solutions the polluters are prepared to offer. "I want them to reflect meaningful enforcement," he said.
Under the Supplemental Environmental Project program, a polluter can pay part or all of a penalty by financing an environmental project such as wetlands restoration or habitat preservation.
The program is an outgrowth of an environmental commission led by Gov. Jim Gilmore when he was attorney general. It was created by the General Assembly in 1997 and went into effect July 1.
In the program, the DEQ and the offender negotiate a solution for an environmental misdeed, and the terms are put to a citizen panel, the State Water Control Board, for final approval.
The DEQ staff had four such projects to present to the board in late March, but three were withdrawn when Treacy asked for more study.
One project would have had Little Oil Co. of Richmond pay $80,000 for improving access for the disabled and other work at James River State Park for an oil spill in January that dumped 20,000 gallons into wetlands.
Another would have had Boar's Head Provision Co. spend $15,000 to buy land harboring the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in Greensville County as punishment for the company's polluting underground water with salt.
Treacy said he wants to ensure that such projects are handled consistently throughout the agency's six regional offices. He added that he hopes the three tabled projects will go back before the water board in July.
One project was presented to the board, and it was accepted. In that case, AlliedSignal Inc. agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and spend another $100,000 on three other projects. Treacy said he let that one go because the fine and costs of the other projects were substantial.
Some environmentalists support Treacy's desire to study the program. They said the program wasn't being run as the law intended, and some projects weren't being devised to correct problems caused by the offender. "If you kill 10,000 fish with an oil spill, you shouldn't be able to rehabilitate by painting benches in a park somewhere," said Jeffrey M. Corbin, a staff scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The DEQ plans to consult with environmental and industry groups as it studies the program, Treacy said.