Audit questions state’s air quality enforcement

Though Louisiana’s air quality has improved in recent years, state regulators should be doing more to ensure companies are complying with air quality rules, the state’s legislative auditor says.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality agreed with some of the Louisiana legislative auditor’s conclusions but said that adding staff as the auditor’s office suggests may not be affordable, according to The Center Square.

According to the LLA’s analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data, the number of “good” air quality days in Louisiana has increased from 191.9 in calendar year 2008 to 232 in 2018, or about a 21% improvement. Meanwhile, the number of unhealthy days for sensitive groups decreased about 75%, from 14.3 days to 3.6 days. But according to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, Louisiana has the highest toxic air emissions per square mile of any state. Parts of the state have shown elevated risks for cancer and respiratory problems, the EPA says.

DEQ does not issue enforcement actions in a timely manner to facilities that violate air permit requirements, the LLA says. From fiscal years 2015 through 2019, the time it took DEQ to issue enforcement actions increased by 102.1%, from an average of 289 days to an average of 585 days.

“As a result, there is a risk that facilities may have violations that remain uncorrected for years,” the LLA’s report says.

DEQ doesn’t effectively track whether companies pay the fines the department assesses, and the settlement process through which penalties are assessed takes more than two years on average, the auditor’s office says. Not having enough staff, frequent turnover among employees, and ineffective data systems all create challenges for the department, according to LLA’s assessment. Read the full story.