The Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania)
BYLINE: By JOHN LATIMER Lebanon Daily News
Despite strong political pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has refused to drop a $21,600 fine levied against Lebanon for failing to abide by stormwater regulations.
Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello said she disagreed with the agency’s decision, but said the outcome could have been much worse for the city.
“The $21,600 is greatly reduced from what it could have been, and in fact, when we compare to other municipalities who were also in this first round of enforcement, we probably got the lowest fine,” the mayor said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The issue dates back about 10 years, when the EPA passed updated municipal stormwater regulations that were to be met by Lebanon by 2008.
Lebanon did not comply with the regulations, and EPA notified Capello last summer that the city faced fines of at least $81,600 and as much as $177,500 if it failed to implement a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System to control stormwater runoff.
The mayor and members of her administration met with EPA officials in Philadelphia to discuss the fines and explain the oversight in complying with the stormwater regulations.
Capello told agency officials that although it did not have an EPA permit, the city had met many of the requirements. She also complained that the city had filed required annual reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, but had never been notified it was not in compliance with federal standards. The EPA agreed to drop the fine to $21,600 if the city completed the requirements and enacted a stormwater ordinance in a timely manner. The agency also held out the possibility that the fine money could be directed towards a “green-infrastructure project” that would benefit the environment.
The city enacted its stormwater discharge ordinance in October and developed a green project that would naturally remove algae from Stoever’s Dam lake by installing an aerator fountain in a feeder pond. Because a substantial amount of the funding for the $25,000 project came from a private donor, EPA rejected the proposal, Capello said.
That is when U.S. senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey got involved.
Both senators, along with Congressman Tim Holden and state Sen. Mike Folmer, sent letters to the EPA urging it to accept the project in lieu of the fine.
The EPA declined to bend to the political pressure, and last Wednesday ruled the city must pay the $21,600.
EPA officials told Capello the city must be held to the same level of accountability as a private company, like DuPont.
“I took offense to that because I don’t think local governments should be treated as private corporations,” Capello said. “They threw out a company, DuPont, and said it wouldn’t be fair to DuPont if they allowed us to do a green-infrastructure project in place of a fine – that we needed to pay a fine.”
The mayor continued, arguing it was a false comparison.
“We absolutely have to be treated differently, because we are not a private corporation out to make a profit,” she said. “We are a local government who are just supposed to cover our costs and provide the most efficient services that we can using our taxpayers’ money. We can’t create more products or new products and increase our price to cover that and make a profit. We are definitely different. And they should have considered that.”
Copyright 2012 Lebanon Daily News
All Rights Reserved