Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens), Chair of the Assembly Oversight, Analysis, and Investigations Committee, sent a letter to Commissioner Joseph Martens in regard to his concern about the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) latest policy proposal to permit entities, both private and public, to conduct self-audits for environmental safety regulation compliance. The proposal put forward by DEC would relax oversight by allowing participating entities to reduce or avoid fines by conducting self-audits and reporting non-compliance violations within 30 days of their discovery, and correcting the violation within 60 days of the violations disclosure. Enrolling in the self-audit program allows the company to additionally benefit by being placed as a “low priority” site for inspection.
While the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had in place for a number of years a self-auditing policy, the current proposal deviates significantly from the federal model. The time period for disclosure after discovery of a violation in the DEC proposal incorporates an additional nine days leniency than the EPA model. More worrisome the proposal, the EPA policy does not specifically assert that self-auditing will lead to a facilities placement on a “low priority” inspection list. However, the DEC model states that entities engaging in self-audit agreements will not be prioritized for inspection during an audit period, except in exceptional circumstances. Assemblyman Hevesi’s letter outlines a study which indicates this second provision is likely to lead facilities to report only minor violations, in hopes that they will not be prioritized for an inspection that would uncover more substantial regulation infringements. Assemblyman Hevesi is calling on the Department of Environmental Conservation to reconsider and reject this proposal as currently laid out for the health and safety of all New Yorkers.
“I find the self-auditing proposal put forth by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to be deeply troubling in its current form,” Hevesi said. “The policy deviates significantly from what has been implemented at the federal level in terms of environmental self-policing, with no explanation for the changes at the state level. Top officials at DEC have made public statements praising this current policy which indicates, to me at least, that there was no intention to have a discussion on how such a significant digression in oversight practice might affect the lives of millions of New Yorkers. I have sent a letter to Commissioner Martens calling on the Department of Environmental Conservation to reject the implementation of this policy in its current form, until additional public consideration can be given to the matter.”