Polluters Ran Amok Under Romney, Says Watchdog

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/6238884581/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Gage Skidmore</a>/Flickr

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As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney made a number of decisions that significantly limited the state’s ability to crack down on environmental crimes, according to the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

On Thursday, the group released a recap of Romney’s efforts to cut and reorganize the state’s enforcement agencies. His time as governor was marked by budget cuts, understaffed and underfunded agencies, and lax enforcement, PEER said.

Just weeks after taking office in 2003, he announced a plan to centralize the state’s legal services and lay off as many as half of its attorneys, including many within the Department of Environmental Protection. In rolling out the plan, Romney’s chief legal counsel Daniel Winslow singled out environmental positions as a target for cuts in an interview with Lawyers Weekly. Critics said the move would limit the state’s ability to prosecute environmental crimes, as the DEP was already “chronically understaffed” and would likely have to drop some cases. In the end, Romney’s reorganization plan was stymied by opposition from enviros, unions, and residents.

His administration also cut the DEP’s budget by almost a third, and temporarily closed its Northeastern Regional Office in Wilmington, Mass. An internal DEP memo that the Boston Globe obtained noted that these cuts were hurting the state. “Over the long term … these budget and staffing cuts cannot be sustained without significantly increasing risks to public health and the environment and increasing serious operational and service delivery problems for the agency,” it said. 

In 2004, Romney’s administration was accused of suppressing a report that detailed problems within the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP), which enforces laws related to pollution, wildlife and marine safety. The report, which was conducted by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, found that the police staffing was “inadequate,” the programs were “grossly under-funded,” and that the department had “weak leadership and management.” Just 105 of the 130 full-time posts were filled, and the pay for environmental enforcement officers was far lower than other law enforcement in the state.

PEER later conducted its own survey of MEP staff, and found that 97 percent of respondents felt that the police force was not sufficiently funded “to fulfill its environmental mission.” Ninety-nine percent felt it wasn’t sufficiently staffed. Nearly three-quarters disagreed with the statement that they had “confidence in the professionalism” of the MEP managers they report to. Staff confidence in the state’s enforcement agency was pretty abysmal.

New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett says this history is indicative of Romney’s disregard for enforcing the state’s environmental laws. “Romney’s approach to enforcement was to use it as a last resort, and to be as friendly to business as possible,” she said. “I shudder to think what it would be like if he implemented those policies nationwide.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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