Behind The Lens episode 22: ‘There’s a civil war going on out there’

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This week on Behind The Lens: emotional testimony at a public hearing on proposed changes to state environmental cleanup standards.

On March 1st — the Friday before Mardi Gras — the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality held a hearing to take public comments on a big change in state regulations.

DEQ’s Risk Evaluation/Corrective Action Program, or RECAP, has been around since 1998. This regulation establishes “minimum remediation standards for present and past uncontrolled constituent releases.” Put simply: When an oil & gas company or similar industry leaves a mess at a work site in Louisiana, RECAP rules dictate what they have to cleanup.

Now, DEQ says it wants to revise RECAP standards, possibly reducing the costs of remediating sites across the state. But opponents of the move warn it would allow polluters to leave more toxic waste at sites across the state.

We have a couple of excerpts from last week’s testimony. First is Wilma Subra, a chemist representing the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. Subra presented a brief technical assessment of the proposed RECAP revisions.

Not all of last week’s testimony was technical in nature. Some of it was deeply personal. We have an extended portion of comments by Gene Leblanc. He’s an Ascension Parish resident; he and his family live near the infamous Sorrento landfill.

One week later, on Friday, March 8, The Lens received word that DEQ would put the RECAP revision process on hold. Spokesman Greg Langley tells us the department wants to do more public outreach on potential revisions before pushing forward.

In education news, Orleans Parish school officials are working with four F-rated charter schools to improve academics and operations, rather than revoking their contracts. We got a briefing on the improvement plans from Marta Jewson.

 And we recap a big development last week in criminal justice. A federal civil rights lawsuit against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and several of his prosecutors will be allowed to go forward. The plaintiffs allege the prosecutors violated people’s civil rights through the use of fake subpoenas and unlawfully obtained arrest warrants against witnesses and crime victims. Lens editor Charles Maldonado has been closely following this case.

Behind The Lens is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher.

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