For years, it’s been joked that DEQ stands for “don’t even question,” since Louisiana allows its industrial plants to self-report hazardous releases.
"There’s some entities, if they have a release, they’ll say, ‘Well, nothing left the fence line,'" Dr. Chuck Carr Brown acknowledges.
Of course, that was before he became Secretary of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality last year.
"One of the things that I’ve said as I was introducing myself to the industry was, 'Don’t base your business plan’s success on less stringent oversight.'"
He got his bachelor’s in chemistry from Southern Miss, then worked for Exxon for more than 20 years, getting his master’s, then his doctorate from Southern University in Baton Rouge.
"I got my Ph.D. in public policy with an emphasis in environmental policy," he says. "Dissertation topic: 'Understanding Environmentalism Among African-Americans.'"
And, as a result, he says, "I’m very much an environmental justice advocate."
That guides him as he works to change the "don’t even question" culture here in Louisiana.
"Does a plant have an obligation to be a good corporate neighbor?" Brown asks, rhetorically. "So when I look at environmental justice, I ask the question, 'What can they do to enhance the quality of life of the individuals that live near and around that plant?’”
Take air monitoring, for example.
"Louisiana has a statewide air monitoring network. We have 37 monitors strategically placed," Brown explains. "One of my goals is to increase that network and have industry pay for those monitors."
The recently announced EPA-DEQ settlement with Exxon Baton Rouge will do just that. It includes having the company provide DEQ with a $1.4-million mobile monitoring lab. That will allow on-site, real-time analysis of air, water or soil samples around any of Louisiana's chemical plants.
Carr-Brown's bottom line is simple: "We're going to be protective of our citizens."