Bob Sweeney might be retiring in three weeks, but he’s filling his role as one of Long Island’s most important and respected environmental watchdogs right to the end.
Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), the chairman of the State Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, has formally requested that state officials conduct a comprehensive investigation into illegal dumping. That’s a good call.
Sweeney’s request follows immediately Monday’s indictments, by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, of six individuals and four corporations in the Islip dumping scandal.
Like Newsday’s editorial board, Sweeney cites both the ease with which tens of thousands of tons of contaminated fill were dumped as well as the cost savings to the alleged perpetrators in questioning whether these are the only people involved in this kind of activity on Long Island.
Sweeney wrote to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, asking them to use their “enforcement and legislative powers to examine the issue of illegal dumping more fully.”
“The recent illegal dumping investigation on Long Island highlights the ease with which illegal dumping activities can be conducted and also highlights the difficulty of identifying the illegal dumpers,” Sweeney wrote. “The existing statutory and regulatory requirements were enacted to prevent harm to human health and the environment. However, as long as there is little risk of prosecution and it is less expensive to discard the waste illegally there will be individuals who will be willing to do so.”
Sweeney asked the pair to recommend actions that would deter illegal dumping and appropriate penalties for violators. For starters, some environmental crimes that currently are misdemeanors could be reclassified as felonies.
Sweeney says he would have conducted committee hearings on the issue had the indictments come earlier. But his impending retirement and the holidays looming make that logistically impossible.
His successor as committee chair — Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) would be a wise choice — should pick up the ball and run the hearings when the next legislative session begins next month.