TNRCC POSTS RECORD ENFORCMENT NUMBERS|
Fines for Environmental Violations Top $11 Million,
Number of Overdue Cases Slashed
More than $11 million in fines and environmental projects were imposed against almost 700 environmental violators by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) during the last year - the highest annual total ever for the three-year-old agency and either of its predecessor agencies, the Texas Water Commission and Texas Air Control Board. The number of overdue cases agency-wide also has been slashed by 80 percent.
For the fiscal year which ended August 31, the TNRCC issued 666 administrative orders which required fines of $6,866,540. An additional $4,280,025 in Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) were also agreed to for a total of $11,146,565. A SEP is an innovative tool which turns money from fines into projects which benefit the community affected by the environmental violation. It is designed to resolve an enforcement action while at the same time improving the environment. It is designed to resolve an enforcement action while at the same time improving the environment. If the TNRCC approves, it can take the place of part or all of a fine.
Fines for Fiscal Year 1996 were more than double the $5.37 million imposed by the TNRCC in 1995, and almost twice as much as the $5.69 million levied in 1994. In 1993, the Texas Water Commission levied $10.92 million in fines, but a single settlement of $4 million inflated that total.
"This has been the most impressive year in the history of environmental protection in Texas" said TNRCC Chairman Barry McBee. "These enforcement figures reinforce one of the guiding principles of this Commission: To ensure strict, sure and just enforcement when environment laws are violated."
The TNRCC also is aggressively encouraging increased voluntary compliance with environmental regulations through assistance to small business and local governments, and environmental self-audits. These tools are being used to supplement, and not replace, traditional enforcement mechanisms.
Recent EPA statistics show that the number of federal environmental inspections, administrative actions, fines and penalties have decreased as states like Texas have become much more active.
The average fine for state environmental violations in Fiscal Year 1996 was $16,737, up from an average of $7,316 in 1995.
An intense effort to clear the agency's number of overdue enforcement cases began in December 1994. At the time, 45 percent of 528 cases were overdue out of a total caseload of 1,169. On July 31 this year, the agency-wide rate of overdue cases was slightly more than 10 percent, with 104 overdue cases out of 1,001 formal enforcement actions.
"We have made tremendous progress in clearing these cases," Chairman McBee said. "We want Texans to be confident that when there is an environmental violation, those responsibilities will be held accountable."