I thought you might be interested in this article from last week's Republic.
Phoenix-based Honeywell Aerospace will pay the largest air-quality settlement ever levied in Maricopa County, a $3 million-plus penalty for alleged violations at five of its Valley facilities.
The article is important because of the size of the fine, but there's an important little tidbit buried inside. How did the county find the violations?
Many were self-reported by the company after an internal environmental audit.
That's right. "self-reported by the company after an internal environmental audit." That's likely to be the last "internal audit" that Honeywell conducts.
If you were a CEO with an environmental conscience, you might want to know if your pollution-control measures were effective. Companies that want to do the right thing will often go above and beyond their mandatory reporting requirements and conduct in-house audits to determine the effectiveness of their controls. They learn a harsh lesson when the results of those internal audits are used against them. Naturally they only have to learn that lesson once.
General Motors used to have a program to track the effectiveness of its pollution control systems. The program provided a powerful tool for GM to improve its pollution control technology on the front end. Then the EPA subpoenaed the data and fined GM for violations that would have otherwise gone undetected. GM eliminated the program.
It would be a much more effective if truly voluntary auditing and reporting were privileged--the company could maintain the data but it would be immune from discovery. (Obviously the self auditing and reporting that is required as a condition of the company receiving an air quality permit would not be privileged.)
In the mid 1990s, a bill to provide a privilege for voluntary audits was working its way through the legislature until the media and the environmental community dubbed the bill "The Polluter Protection Act." Legislators who supported the bill were mocked without mercy and the bill died a quick death.
So now regulators can burn companies like Honeywell. But only once. After all, it's pretty clear that once these companies are burned by their own audits, they will stop conducting additional audits.
That's a worse result for everyone. Well almost everyone--I'm sure the controversy sold a few extra newspapers and looked good on the Siera Club's fundraising letters.