Today, Governor Bobby Jindal signed a trio of environmental reform bills into law that will strengthen protections for communities where underground caverns are present. The legislation is part of the Governor's 2013 Legislative Package.
Governor Jindal said, "These laws will ensure that companies are acting in good faith and upholding public safety. It's critical that we hold companies accountable when they put communities at risk and these new laws will help achieve that goal."
SB 139--authored by Senator Rick Ward and Representative Karen St. Germain-- helps ensure industry compliance and public safety by increasing the potential fines for violating any regulation or order regarding the creation or use of underground caverns.
The current maximum fine of $5,000 per day for a violation is raised to a maximum of $32,500 per day, and a company can be also be fined up to $50,000 per day for failing to comply with orders from the State. The civil penalty may also include unpaid state costs associated with response to violations. For intentional violations that result in irreparable environmental damages or that endanger human health, a penalty of $1 million may be issued.
HB 493--authored by Representative Karen St. Germain and Senator Rick Ward-- requires stricter regulations on the creation or use of underground caverns.
This bill sets out guidelines for the assessment and monitoring of areas in and around salt domes as well as the duties and responsibilities of permit holders to provide support and assistance during evacuations.
The bill also expands upon DNR rules proposed in February, which include requiring all cavern operators to conduct appropriate tests to prove mechanical and structural integrity, such as Mechanical Integrity Tests (MIT) and sonar surveys. The proposed rules would also require that all solution-mined caverns have a minimum boundary of 300 feet from the edge of salt. Three hundred feet is currently required for exploration and production waste disposal caverns. Lastly, the proposed rules address closure, plug-and-abandonment and post-closure activities and monitoring for solution-mined caverns.
HB 494--authored by Representative Karen St. Germain-- protects buyers of property bordering underground caverns by requiring property disclosures and the filing of formal notices. A property disclosure statement must specify whether a cavern lies under the property or the property is within half a mile of a cavern well, and a cavern owner must file a notice with clerk of court identifying the location of the cavern.