12 Oct Get with the Program: Part 1 – Government Programs in General
Most people unfamiliar with government environmental programs believe that they are either extremely complex, unmanageable and expensive or provide free money with just a signature. Neither of those characterizations are correct. However, programs do have requirements that must be met. It is important to understand these in order to obtain the maximum benefits and avoid unpleasant consequences. The key things to remember are 1) Don’t Panic! and 2) get all the facts before moving forward. So… let’s start with basics.
The mission of almost all governmental environmental agencies is simple, in principle: protect human health and the environment. Like most things, it gets much more difficult when you get into the actual nuts and bolts of making it work. But what does it mean to be protective? Eliminate all pollution? Impossible. Prevent all negative impacts from pollution? Can’t be done. Focus only on documented health or environmental issues that can directly be attributed to a specific polluted property? A little late then. The agencies must also consider the resources available to implement, oversee, and enforce the regulations. In the end, the agencies attempt to develop regulations, using the best available scientific data, that are both protective and can be reasonably implemented. Thus, all regulations are a compromise. Sometimes, they miss it by a mile. Most often, the agencies do a pretty good job. In other words, everyone will find something they like and something they don’t like. That is the nature of compromise.
At this point, you’re probably wondering where the “programs” come in. The regulations, once developed, are implemented through government programs. These may include Federal, State, and (possibly) local programs. So why is this important? Environmental regulatory programs often specify the level of investigation needed, as well as methods to be used and the necessary documentation. Yes, there are reports, forms, deadlines, and rules. On the plus side (and this is a big plus), environmental programs may offer some protection from liability once their requirements are met.
Now, I know some of you may be skittish about dealing with government agencies. I get that. But you should know that the career governmental employees you will be dealing with are actually very intelligent and reasonable people. They are not trying to stand in your way or make your life difficult. That said, they do have to enforce the regulations. The best results are generally obtained through cooperation and good communication.
In future BLOGS, we’ll discuss some specific programs and requirements related to industrial and commercial properties. The following describes how these BLOGs will be structured.
Part 2 will discuss Federal Programs. These include the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (a.k.a. CERCLA or “Superfund”); and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Part 3 will look at environmental programs of the State of Connecticut. State programs include the Property Transfer Program; the Voluntary Remediation Program, Emergency Response, Significant Environmental Hazard, and the Potable Water Program.
Part 4 will talk about the Brownfields Program. Brownfields is discussed separately as it requires the interaction of the State, the local government, the developer, and the property owner. This program is becoming more and more popular for investigating, remediating, and redeveloping properties. It is also a very successful program.
I know this may seem overwhelming. That’s okay. These BLOGs are meant as an introduction to what’s out there. You don’t have to become an expert. That’s why you have environmental consultants. Your property may not be in ANY of these programs, so don’t panic. However, a basic knowledge of the programs will help you decide when you need to get assistance from and environmental professional, or at least get their opinion. For now, just breathe and learn.