Published in The Providence Journal (August 3, 1998)
Well, it’s summertime and the criminals are running amok.
Just look at the two-person environmental crime wave shown in the picture above. Make your blood boil? No wonder. There are more environmental violations shown in this picture than you could shake a billy club at.
First, consider laws protecting wetlands, which are enforced by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
Under the wetlands regulations, these kids are discharging a pollutant into a freshwater wetland in flagrant violation of DEM regulations, since by regulation a “rock” is defined as a pollutant.
Had these kids given any thought to how they could be good environmental citizens, they would know that before throwing stones in a pond they would need a DEM permit. Presumably, they would qualify for a permit by arguing that their activity constitutes an “insignificant alteration” to a wetland. But if the DEM Director raised understandable concerns about how many stones these vigorous boys could hurl into the wetland in one summer, they may need to request a preliminary determination that their activity does not constitute a significant alteration of a wetland. The good news is that this permitting activity could take months, during which time the wetland would be protected from their pernicious assault.
But wetlands violations are only the tip of this criminal iceberg. Consider the water-quality laws. State water-quality regulations also define a stone as a pollutant and prohibit the discharge of pollutants into waters of the state without the approval of the DEM Director. Our perpetrators should also be aware that penalties for violation of water pollution laws run up to $25,000 a day, and can include criminal fines and imprisonment for up to five years.
They should also be aware that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) retains jurisdiction to prosecute environmental violators as well.
If this is a coastal pond, these two juvenile delinquents could find themselves doing hard time. The reason is that they will have to deal with the no-nonsense Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which has more prohibitions than a Southern Baptist summer camp and which is tough as leather spaghetti when it comes to enforcing its rules.
This picture is a veritable smorgasbord of CRMC violations. First is the prohibited filling of a coastal wetland. Moreover, to the extent these violators’ hurling arms fail them on occasion, and the rocks fall on the beach, this would also be the impermissible filling of a beach under CRMC regulations. If these were tidal waters, this would be an impermissible filling in tidal waters. If the area in question is a barrier beach, and they rode their bicycles there, heaven help them if they crossed any vegetated areas. Yet more violations to add to their growing rap sheet. Similarly, if they took a break from these wayward activities to build sand castles, whether or not on a barrier beach, they had better have their bail money ready. “On-site beach material (cobbles, sand, etc.) may not be used as construction material” under CRMC regulations.
We all know that environmental statutes and regulations are written with such broad prohibitions and draconian penalties because anything less could not possibly protect the environment. If the environmental laws are not stringent enough to literally crush any violator, no matter how minor the infraction, how can the environmentalists guarantee the end of all pollution?
Today, it’s throwing stones in a pond; tomorrow it’s burying one hundred drums of toxic chemicals in a school yard.
So what is DEM and the EPA waiting for? Let’s prosecute these two hooligans and put them in the slammer where they belong, so the rest of us can relax and enjoy our summer.