Environmentalists Concerned About Enforcement Transparency

The state’s most recent environmental compliance report reads more like a pitch to invest in Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management stock than a document of enforcement actions. And both the report and the agency’s growing lack of transparency has environmentalists concerned.

For the three years immediately following Gov. Gina Raimondo’s election, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) failed to publish its annual compliance and enforcement report, something the agency had done every year since 1999.

The document isn’t a legal requirement, and DEM has said it suspended the annual publication after the 2013 report was published to direct resources elsewhere. Terrence Gray, the agency’s associate director for environmental protection, recently told ecoRI News he wasn’t sure the reports were being widely read and that they didn’t generate much feedback.

Save The Bay criticized DEM’s decision to stop publishing the reports, saying it reduced transparency and made it more difficult to understand whether compliance and enforcement actions were being impacted by staffing reductions and budget cuts. The Providence-based nonprofit also noted that the annual reports had historically helped identify what natural resources were being degraded or put at risk.

When the annual enforcement report returned, in 2017, it was a shell of its former self, and it had a new name: “Summary of Compliance Assistance, Emergency Responses & Enforcement Activities.” The report shrank to 24 pages, from 66 in 2013 — the reports for 2010, 2011, and 2012 also were all more than 60 pages — and featured brochure-like photos and marketing copy not present in any of the previous 15 reports.

David Chopy, DEM’s Office of Compliance & Inspection chief, wrote the 2017 report’s first draft. DEM director Janet Coit, Gray, and the agency’s legal counsel “reviewed it, rewrote parts of it, and ultimately finalized it” for the governor’s office to review, according to Michael Healey, DEM’s chief public affairs officer. Prior to 2017, Chopy wrote the reports. (Read more…)