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WASHINGTON -- Delaware's top environment official have
urged a Senate panel to strengthen criminal laws to make it easier to
hold corporate leaders personally responsible for violating clean
air, clean water and hazardous waste laws.
Fines are not enough to stop corporate polluters, who often find
it cheaper to pay the penalty than to stop fouling the air or water,
said Nicholas A. Di Pasquale, secretary of the Delaware Department of
Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Corporate executives
need to face jail time, which they rarely do now, he said.
"A plant manager or corporate officer who knows he or she could be
held personally liable and jailed in the event of a violation will be
much more likely to ensure that maintenance and repairs are performed
and conditions are corrected," Di Pasquale told a subcommittee of the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
Di Pasquale was invited to testify by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.,
chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. Di Pasquale, who was
appointed to his post in 1999 by former Gov. Tom Carper, recently
announced week he was resigning, effective Sept. 20, to work on
environmental issues at the regional and national level.
Biden agreed with Di Pasquale that national environmental laws
should be given more teeth.
"We need to send polluters a loud, clear message: If you break the
law and pollute the environment, you will be prosecuted to the
fullest extent of the law," Biden said. "And we will put you in jail
for your crimes."
Ray Clatworthy, a Dover Republican who is running against Biden
for the Senate this year, said, "Any corporate leader who breaks the
law should be held accountable."
Biden said budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency have
led to a drop in the criminal cases it has prosecuted. Last year, the
agency netted $95 million in fines, down from 2000's $122 million, he
From 1986 to 2000, the federal agency's funding for state
environmental programs dropped more than 4 percent, Di Pasquale said.
At the same time, state funding increased by 65 percent. States now
spend almost twice as much as the EPA on the environment, he said.
Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the environment
division, said the Bush administration has made strong enforcement of
environmental laws a top priority. However, he agreed with Biden that
it would help to strengthen existing laws to allow prosecution of
people who attempt to break the law. Currently, prosecutors must wait
until environmental damage has been done.
"We will continue to press forward in this area to ensure the
protection of all Americans and of our environment," Sansonetti said.
The Bush administration has proposed a $300 million cut in the
EPA's budget for 2003. The agency's enforcement staff could be cut by
as many as 200 employees, Biden said.
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