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EPA Office Gets Kinder, Gentler

EPA Office Gets Kinder, Gentler

The Environmental Protection Agency's New England regional office's "less confrontational, more collaborative approach to enforcing federal environmental laws" resulted in twice as many convictions for environmental polluters in 1997 as in any previous year, according to a report released yesterday by EPA Regional Administrator John DeVillars.

DeVillars has drawn "heavy criticism" for the "kinder, gentler" strategy. In 1995, he cut the office's staff of inspectors from 60 to 42 and transferred other staff members from enforcement roles to a program to educate businesses on environmental compliance. Last winter, inspections dropped by 58% compared with the same period the previous year, prompting alarm among environmentalists, Clinton administration officials and others who feared that polluters "were being let off the hook."

But since 1995, DeVillars has increased the office's number of criminal investigators from three to 13. The regional office has boosted pollution-prevention efforts, organized recycling programs, and "de-emphasiz[ed] surprise inspections meant to ambush violators." Such "carrot and stick" approach has led to "tough punishments," including a record $9.5 million fine for an oil barge spill in Rhode Island.

Robert Ruddock, VP of the 5,200-member business lobby Associated Industries of Massachusetts: "We certainly prefer, and I think businesses get more out of, a non-confrontational, educational and technical interaction than they do from having the cars pull up at the fence with the sirens wailing." (Peter Howe, Boston Globe, 3/16)

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