GOP Bill Extends Deadlines for Fixing Self-Reported Environmental Violations

Participants in the state’s voluntary environmental compliance audit program would have more time to correct violations under a new Republican-backed bill.

Assembly Bill 264 also instructs the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Justice to consider whether a violator is a small business that has committed a minor violation before pursuing enforcement in court.

The bill, introduced Monday by Rep. Andre Jacque, of DePere, would extend the current 90-day deadline for correcting violations found through the DNR environmental compliance audit program. Violators would be allowed 180 days for most violations, and would be allowed 360 days if modification of pollution prevention equipment is required.

The bill also would eliminate the current legal requirements that businesses notify the DNR at least 30 days before beginning a compliance audit, and that the public be notified and be allowed to comment on timetables for bringing a business into compliance.

Jacque said the bill brings the state self-compliance program in line with a similar U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program with the goal of encouraging more companies to participate. The EPA program has a 180-day correction time period and no requirement to notify the agency before an audit begins. “Currently the state program is, as I understand it, woefully underutilized compared with the federal process,” Jacque said. “This is going to make the state program more usable.”

Jacque noted the DNR’s Small Business Environmental Council, composed of both Republican and Democratic appointees, unanimously supported the bill draft.

Under existing state law, a business can reduce its liability for violations of environmental standards by enrolling in the environmental compliance audit program, voluntarily auditing its own performances, reporting results and correcting violations.

The law contains provisions that prevent use of the program to deflect penalties for known or serious violations. The program was created in 2004. The DNR received two compliance reports identifying five potential violations in the past two years and three reports identifying 37 potential violations in the prior two years.