Chuck Carr Brown. Photography by Collin Richie

Viewing his appointment as a homecoming of sorts, Dr. Chuck Carr Brown took over as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality on Jan. 11. Brown is not new to DEQ, having served as assistant secretary for environmental services there from 2004-2008. Most recently, he was president and CEO of Brown and Associates, a Baton Rouge environmental services, governmental relations and issues management firm.

Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi, as well as a master’s in public administration and a doctorate in public policy/environmental policy, both from Southern University.

To dig deeper into his plan for DEQ and its potential impacts on industry, 10/12 Industry Report sat down with Brown to discuss his goals and how they mesh with the needs and wants of industry:

Q. How would you describe your philosophy as it relates to your new role as DEQ secretary?

A. I firmly believe in environmental education. I have this philosophy I call EEAT (Environmental Education, Access and Trust). It begins with environmental education, followed by access to the decision-maker, and then ultimately you trust the decision that I make, because even if I have to tell you no, at least you’ve had the opportunity to state your case.

I often tell plant managers to get out from behind your desk, go outside your fence line, get to know the community, create a citizen advisory panel, and then find out what you can do to enhance their quality of life. Is that fence line monitoring? Is that health screening? Is that job training? You have a responsibility to be a good corporate neighbor.

Q. What will your department do, specifically, to enhance environmental education?

A. I’m creating an advisory panel at DEQ. We’ll meet at least once a quarter. There’s no specific agenda as of yet, just a goal of education, because that’s critical. I have five folks who have already committed … one LSU professor, a couple of folks from industry, etc. I’m going to convene the group after the legislative session. The goal will be for them to tell us [DEQ] how we can do things better. This includes things such as whether or not they’re getting correct information from us, or enough information from us, how our public participation process is working, etc.

We want [the public] to give us input and we want to open the lines of communications. As a result, we want them to understand what’s happening, so that they don’t see a plant with smoke coming out of a stack and say, “Oh, they’re poisoning me.” We want to tell them what’s coming out of that stack.

We’re utilizing social media as well, publicizing community outreach events or other important announcements. We’re also creating a YouTube channel where we’re going to have about five minutes of me just talking without anything clouding the issue … giving them real facts.

Q. Switching topics, do you feel the current state budget woes will impact how DEQ operates? If so, how?

A. LDEQ has not had a fee increase since 2003. We’ve gotten very good support from industry to look at our fee structure, and to recommend certain fee increases. As an important part of that, we were assured by this administration that we would be able to keep any funds that we generated. This is critical, because funding for our operation is generated through fees and some grants through the EPA. We’re totally self-sufficient.

We’re going to go to the Legislature and ask for about a 10% across the board increase (HB 900). In addition, we have certain tasks that we perform for industry that we don’t get paid for. We’re trying to come in line with what some of the other surrounding states are doing. We’re well below what Texas is doing.

Q. Has industry been supportive of the idea?

A. We’ve had a very good reception. That includes the oil and gas folks, Louisiana Chemical Association, the Louisiana Solid Waste Association, the Louisiana Municipal Association, etc. Nobody wants to talk about an increase, but we’ve gotten great support and we’re going to give them a service for whatever they [the Legislature] give us.

Q. What happens if the increase is not approved?

A. Without it, we’ll run out of money in two years. It’s not a money grab, believe me. We have an environmental trust fund, and the way we’ve stayed afloat the last eight years is by borrowing from that trust fund.

Q. Even with the fee increases, are there any cuts expected at DEQ?

A. At this point, we consider ourselves part of the family. Even though we don’t get general fund money, we’re still part of the family. When they ask other departments to take drastic cuts, they’re going to ask us to take a cut also. Even though we’re not forced to, we’ll take some statutory cuts. It’s not a pretty picture.

Q. Regarding the current regulatory environment in Louisiana, would you say that industry is generally in compliance with DEQ and Environmental Protection Agency regulations?

A. An environmental regulatory agency is faced with a lot of challenges. One is that the rules are constantly changing. I always try to look at ways I can help industry comply with these rules and how can we make them better when they’re promulgated. As a whole, industry, the regulated community, is doing a pretty good job. Can we always do better? Yes, but for the most part I’ve seen that everyone is willing to go the extra mile.

Q. In conclusion, what advice would you give Louisiana’s industrial community?

A. I would like to tell industry to be pro-active. Go back and look at your processes. Go back and look at your operations. There’s some things that you can always do better. The money you spend now will pay off dividends in the long run. I’m also telling them not to base your business plan’s success on less-stringent oversight. We are going to enforce our rules and regulations. On the other hand, we’re always going to help you comply, especially when you show us that you’re willing. We’re going to go the extra mile. That’s one of the things that I continually tell the employees, that we make our decisions based on science. We are going to be an organization that exceeds expectations. I’m letting industry know that.

One thing I want everyone to know … that any federal regulation that impacts us, we’re going to fight to make sure it’s right for Louisiana.

Originally published in the second quarter 2016 edition of 10/12 Industry Report