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Land of Confusion: "Littering on Steroids"

The Department of Environmental Quality does attempt to educate law enforcement officials about environmental crimes.  Capitol Access’ Wallis Watkins recently attended one of their seminars.

“When you see black smoke anywhere, somebody’s burning something they shouldn’t,” Jeff Nolan, Director of Criminal Investigations for DEQ, told the room full of deputies, firemen and justices of the peace.

“If you knowingly break DEQ’s rules and you emit something that can hurt somebody, it’s a felony,” he said, regarding the ways environmental crimes are ranked for prosecution purposes. “The misdemeanor is breaking a rule by discharging or emitting something against our regulations that can’t hurt somebody.  An example of that may be dumping shingles or dumping tires.”

Nolan explained they classify all of these things, including littering, as “green crimes”.

“The whole reason we call them ‘green crimes’ is not because they have anything to do with the environment per se, but all environmental crimes -- as I’ve learned -- involve money.”

Penalties start at $500 for intentional littering, because littering costs the state plenty-- an estimated $40 million per year along Louisiana’s roads and waterways.

The penalty for another type of dumping can go up to a million dollars: unpermitted disposal of industrial waste creates bigger and longer term problems. Nolan referred to that as “littering on steroids.”

EPA Investigator Brett Spiers says the federal agency has great concerns about those problems in Louisiana.  

“95% of everybody does everything the right way,” Spiers said. But due to the preponderance of petrochemical plants in Louisiana, he said, “We have a larger 5% than most people.”

And the EPA monitors Louisiana more closely than most other states, primarily because of that abundance of petrochemical plants.  

We’ll have more on monitoring tomorrow.