State is urging U.S. to clean up its act Curran says U.S. should own up to violations of environmental laws.

May 09, 1991|By Stacey Evers | Stacey Evers,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Maryland Attorney J. Joseph Curran Jr. has urged Congress to get rid of the double standard that keeps the federal government from owning up to its violations of environmental laws.

"What we do against Bethlehem [Steel Corp.], we ought to be able to do against Aberdeen [Proving Ground]," Curran said yesterday in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials. "The federal government should be the model for the nation. Give Maryland the enforcement tool that it wants."

The subcommittee yesterday approved by voice vote the Federal Facilities Compliance Act, which, if passed, would force on the federal government the same environmental standards that private citizens, corporations and local and state governments must comply with.

Maryland brings between 200 and 300 actions a year against corporations and municipalities, Curran told the subcommittee. But the state has no way of forcing the federal government to follow environmental statutes, he said.

Curran said Maryland has consent agreements with the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville that require them to comply with environmental regulations. But he said the two facilities have been found to be "ignoring virtually all of the requirements" for safe management of hazardous wastes.

The consent decree for Aberdeen expires in October; the one for Beltsville expires in 1992, he said.

"It is important to Maryland that the realistic threat of sanctions for future violations remain," Curran said. "Maryland has found the deterrent effect of sanctions to be a crucial enforcement tool and it is very important for the state to have that deterrent at all federal facilities."

Aberdeen and Beltsville are two of about 70 federal facilities in Maryland that handle hazardous wastes, Curran said.

He and officials from other states told the panel that they are disappointed in the federal government's environmental record, charging the government is among the worst of violators.

The state officials claim they already have the authority to fine the federal government for environmental violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act , which Congress is due to reauthorize this year.

But the Justice Department argues that the recovery act requires federal agencies only to abide by state and federal statutes and does not give states any enforcement powers. The federal government is also protected by sovereign immunity, Justice Department officials say.

Federal officials also are concerned that the compliance act would discriminate against the government by holding federal agencies to more stringent standards and without considering situations faced only by federal agencies, such as the storage of munitions.

The act's sponsor, Rep. Dennis E. Eckart, D-Ohio, said he understands federal concerns and realizes that the Defense Department, in particular, has tried to clean up its act.

But, Eckart said, there "appears to be no endpoint to negotiations. There's no wall to push them [federal agencies] up against."

The House has twice passed legislation similar to the compliance act, but the measure has never survived the Senate.

The House is optimistic about the bill's chances in the Senate this year because Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, has sponsored the measure and has been lobbying his colleagues for support.

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