NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In April, Cornerstone Chemical Company on the West Bank reported a spill of 3,600 gallons of sulfuric acid. The spill left one employee injured, and the company worked to neutralize the spill. However, environmentalists fear House Bill 615 would allow companies to handle incidents like these outside the public eye.
Attorney Joel Waltzer said this is a real concern.
“Basically you’re giving them a shroud or shield where they don’t have to produce any documents to anyone that relates to any of these audits,” Waltzer said.
The bill, sponsored by Lafayette representative Stuart Bishop, would allow for companies and industries to self-report incidents so that DEQ and the EPA would not have to get involved, to a certain extent. What’s more, the industries would not have to disclose the information in those voluntary reports.
Waltzer said this will essentially blind the people living nearby these industries and put them and their properties in danger.
“This bill goes way beyond," Waltzer said. “It says not only can’t you introduce it into the court or an administrative proceeding, you can’t even get it, you don’t know it exists. So in the case of Cornerstone, we don’t know what chemicals were released, in what concentration -- the things that really, the facility itself is in the position to know, because they won’t have to release that information.”
Waltzer said the bill is almost redundant in some senses too, as most industries already self-report incidents with what’s referred to as a company’s “health safety and environmental” audit. But the bill takes away any real repercussions if the industries and plants were to neglect to do so.
“This is a staggering privilege. It’s an impunity," Waltzer said. “But what I think is going to happen, you’re going to pull the teeth out of DEQ and the other agencies that enforce their permits, and you’re going to prevent communities that are living on the fence-lines and people living on the fence in these areas from any justice.”
The bill’s author though, said that’s not the case.
“It promotes companies, it promotes them to be more environmentally safe," Bishop said. “Even though most people think I’m trying to allow companies to hide something, it’s not that they’re going to hide it, it’s going to promote them to do the little bitty things, and fix the little bitty things so they can ultimately prevent the big things from happening.”
Bishop said the bill does still need work, and plans to amend it to define what constitutes a small incident and what constitutes a big incident. But, he said his goal is to reduce the DEQ and EPA’s workload so they can be more effective in their other responsibilities.
“I’ll continue to work with the people concerned about the bill and come to some common ground on it,” Bishop said.
Bishop said a similar bill has been adopted in 22 other states.
As for LDEQ’s position on the bill, they said they are neutral.