Senators Tuesday approved legislation to allow companies to self-audit and keep the information “privileged” when they discover violations of environmental laws.
That information, if it is contained in a self-audit, also can’t also be used as evidence in a civil or administrative proceeding.
That’s another way of saying the public won’t know about it.
The measure, HB2199, was passed by a vote of 20-9.
Democrats opposed the bill while most Republicans backed the legislation.
Sen. John Nelson, a Republican from Litchfield Park, voted “no.”
The legislation is meant to encourage companies to voluntarily check to see if they’re fully complying with environmental laws and then to work to correct anything they find. The legislation doesn’t apply to violations that companies are already required to report, such as major spills.
The bill also expressly says it doesn’t provide for civil or criminal immunity.
Supporters said companies that want to ensure they’re environmentally responsible are afraid to voluntarily find out any violation for fear of getting hammered with penalties.
Critics said it’s a way to hide environmental violations.
“Secrecy does not promote compliance. This bill provides a shield for bad actors and eliminates the public’s watchdog role relative to both the polluters and the agencies,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter.
Environmental audits were a major issue in the 1990s, when states amended their laws to allow companies to not disclose violations that they’re already not required to report.