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Bill Would Grant Polluters Amnesty Measure Also Provides Exemption From Disclosure

In what critics called “an assault on the environment,” the Idaho Senate on Monday approved a bill granting amnesty - and secrecy - to companies that report their own environmental violations.

Sponsoring Sen. Denton Darrington said Senate Bill No. 1142 would allow companies to honestly assess their status without fear of recrimination. It’s not intended to shield flagrant or repeat violators, he said, nor would it weaken current environmental regulations.

“Companies can go in, find out where they stand with environmental laws, and if there are problems, take care of them,” said Darrington, R-Declo. “They’re not protected from anything the law requires now.”

The bill passed, 28 to 7, and now goes to the House. But critics said granting immunity for environmental hazards allows environmental criminals to escape accountability.

“They can confess Sunday morning and all sins will be erased for Saturday night’s rampage,” said Sen. Tim Tucker, D-Porthill. “Do we extend amnesty to killers of people who sell drugs in our schoolyards? No. We establish penalties that hopefully will deter the crime.”

“It’s a bad idea to have immunity that’s so broad,” said Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene. Violators, she said, “would go scot-free.”

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, presented an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office saying that even intentional violators could report the violation and be immune from prosecution.

“I think it (the bill) means what it says,” Schroeder said. It “gets people off the hook for intentionally polluting the environment and hurting people in the process.”

Darrington’s bill also makes the information gathered during the “environmental audits” exempt from public disclosure. He said the bill wouldn’t affect any information that is now public.

A similar bill died last year in committee.

Reed said it’s unwise to make the self-audits secret, because the public wouldn’t know of environmental threats in its own back yard.

Tucker and Reed voted against the bill. Voting for the bill were Sens. Clyde Boatwright, R-Rathdrum; Gordon Crow, R-Coeur d’Alene; Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino.

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