State environmental regulators using new enforcement tool
December 10, 2008 · 10:05 AM
Inspectors from the state Department of Ecology are now using ticket books during site visits to facilities covered by the state's Construction Stormwater, Industrial Stormwater,
and Sand & Gravel General Permits.
The tickets can carry fines of $500 to $3,000 for water-quality violations.
The streamlined response to water pollution is similar to how other Ecology programs handle pollution threats from underground storage tanks and oil spills.
"Field tickets will provide near-immediate consequences for water-quality violations, save state resources, and speed the enforcement process — and most importantly, they allow us to enforce the regulations already in the books," said Kelly Susewind, manager of Ecology's water quality program.
Susewind said a key goal of the tickets is to help reduce the large numbers of common violations that Ecology personnel regularly see during facility inspections.
Ecology doesn't receive revenue from the penalties. By law, the agency passes water-quality penalty collections on to local governments through a competitive grant program for water quality enhancement or restoration projects. Local and tribal governments and state agencies are eligible for this funding.
Ecology inspectors commonly find untreated wastewater discharges; spills of oil or other chemicals; lack of required pollution prevention plans on site; muddy runoff escaping construction sites; and little or no prevention of stormwater contamination.
"These violations may seem small individually, but together they are snowballing into a serious threat to Puget Sound and water quality across the state," Susewind said.
The move to use field tickets helps cut the regulatory red tape, Susewind said, allowing the Ecology inspectors to press to fix small but serious pollution problems early, while the pollution is still relevant.
Ecology's use of field tickets for water quality violations helps even the playing field for facilities already complying with their permit requirements. The tickets will help water quality inspectors give timely feedback so operators know what to do — in much the same way that traffic tickets give immediate attention to traffic violations.
Early candidates for field tickets will be sites where Ecology has a documented history of violations. If Ecology inspectors find the problems are not yet fixed, site owners could get a field ticket.
Ecology will monitor the success of the new approach by looking at how quickly operators of permitted sites correct the violations. Ecology will also monitor the overall number of violations. Susewind said his agency is phasing in the new ticketing approach and that he expects it to fully implement ticketing by the winter of 2009-10.
About 4,400 facilities are covered by the three types of permits where field ticketing begins, amounting to about two thirds of all Ecology water quality permits. Ecology mailed a postcard to the billing offices of facilities that could be affected by the new business
For more information, read "Water Pollution Tickets" at www.ecy.wa.gov/enforce.html