Environmental enforcement supported

BATON ROUGE, LA The House stripped the money from next year's budget proposal for the year that begins July 1, after House members said the investigation division didn't handle many cases, and the environmental enforcement work could be handled elsewhere. DEQ said the cut would shut down the criminal division, which investigates potential solid waste crimes like illegal dump sites.

"Did they understand what the criminal investigations division is responsible for and how it's a vital part of enforcement?" said Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who represents a district with several landfills.

"This really concerns me because this is one of the major areas of enforcement and compliance," Broome said during a Senate Finance Committee budget hearing. "If we don't have this, it really takes the legs out from under DEQ."

The House-proposed cut has prompted complaints from environmentalists. But Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he's also received letters from industry officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking for restoration of the dollars for the criminal investigations unit.

The unit opened 29 new cases last year, and its cases led to four prosecutions, the levying of $1.7 million in fines and the payment of $250,000 in restitution in 2007, according to DEQ.

"It just amazes me that you could have all the funding cut ... It just makes no sense," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

The DEQ cut was one of a series of reductions, totaling millions of dollars, made by the House to the $30 billion budget that will pay for state government operations, in an effort to restrain growth in government spending.

The Finance Committee is reviewing the budget proposal and weighing where to trim dollars and where to add dollars. The committee will make changes in the budget bill within the next couple of weeks before sending it to the full Senate for debate.

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