Opinion: Self-reporting and enforcement of pollution rules

From The Joplin Globe, Dec. 26, 2012:

A "significant" settlement in the wake of "substantial" emissions. So said a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, summing up pollution discharges from EBV Explosives Environmental Co., as well as subsequent EPA enforcement efforts.

"Concerning" is another descriptor we will add to the mix after the federal agency announced the plant between Joplin and Carthage had excess hydrogen chloride and chlorine gas emissions, and would install equipment to eliminate 200,000 pounds of pollution annually.

Besides agreeing to install additional equipment to cut emissions, the company also agreed to a settlement of more than $580,000.

We're pleased the plant has cut pollution. What's concerning is the way the thing came to light.

Federal and state regulators in recent years have lacked the resources, and sometimes the will, to closely monitor emissions into the environment. So companies are required to monitor their own pollution discharges and self-report when there are violations.

"The report starts a process of enforcement, and when we looked further into it, we found violations of their permit," said the EPA's Chris Whitley.

Hazardous waste, primarily from outdated military munitions, has been burned in the incinerator since 1995. In 2008, the company announced it was expanding to handle two new waste streams under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. But company officials at the time said the new units they were building to process the waste would be "10 times more effective in controlling emissions" than earlier methods.

Bill Michaels, a former Carthage veterinarian, was among those who opposed the original incinerator in the late 1980s. He said residents should be concerned about anything that put more lead and other pollutants into the environment and that the public must "keep on top of this to make sure the company is doing what it says it's going to do."

Somebody needs to make sure companies keep their environmental pledges, but we're not sure that putting that responsibility on the shoulders of the public — or self-reporting by the company — is an answer that gives us confidence.

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