For years, it’s been joked that D.E.Q. stands for “don’t even question”, since Louisiana allows its industrial plants to self-report hazardous releases.
“There’s some entities, if they have a release, they’ll say, ‘Well, nothing left the fence line’,” Dr. Chuck Carr Brown acknowledges.
Of course, that was before he became Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality earlier this year.
“One of the things that I’ve said as I was introducing myself to industry was, ‘Don’t base your business plan’s success on less stringent oversight’.”
He got his bachelor’s in chemistry from Southern Miss, then worked for Exxon for more than 20 years, getting his master’s, then his doctorate from Southern University in Baton Rouge.
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“I got my Ph.D. in public policy with an emphasis in environmental policy. Dissertation topic: ‘Understanding Environmentalism Among African-Americans’.”
And, as a result, he says, “I’m very much an environmental justice advocate.”
That guides him as he works to change the “don’t even question” culture here in Louisiana.
“Does a plant have an obligation to be a good corporate neighbor?” Brown asks, rhetorically. “So when I look at environmental justice, I ask the question, ‘What can they do to enhance the quality of life of the individuals that live near and around that plant?’.”
Take air monitoring, for example.
“Louisiana has a statewide air monitoring network. We have 37 monitors strategically placed,” Brown explains. “One of my goals is to increase that network, and probably have industry pay for those monitors.”
He’s also looking to increase surveillance staff, which is crucial to making sure that industry follows the rules.
“We do have lots and lots of surveillance and inspection on these facilities. They take up almost all of our time from a surveillance standpoint. Our inspectors go out and they look at plants or they look at landfills or they look at water discharges. We’ve got to beef up the numbers of inspectors that we have.”
His bottom line?
“We’re going to be protective of our citizens.”