BATON ROUGE, La.-Louisiana's long-troubled scrap tire management program has caught the inquisitive eye of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baton Rouge, which has subpoenaed the records of the state Department of Environmental Quality, apparently for use in a federal grand jury investigation. Assistant U.S Attorney Brian Jackson declined to comment on the matter.
The DEQ had undergone a change in administration earlier this year following accusations of misuse of funds and a questionable loan award-and, according to Norm Rhea, executive director of the Louisiana Independent Tire Dealers Association, the program has since been ``in the best position it's been in in 6 1/2 years.''
Bill Mollere, administrator for the DEQ's solid waste management division, said he did not know what prompted the federal investigation, but noted that there were several allegations regarding the legitimacy of certain activities of the previous administration:
A $500,000 DEQ loan awarded to Merrick Construction Co., which operates a monofill in Cottonport, La., was questioned by the state inspector general and the attorney general. Amid the controversy, the company decided to repay the loan.
A temporary incentive program that paid up to an extra 50 cents beyond the set 85-cent-per-tire reimbursement to companies that picked up scrap tires from outlying areas came under fire when the agency considered expanding the time frame. Critics claimed the DEQ didn't follow regulatory requirements.
A policy to place priorities on scrap tire processing was disparaged when the agency listed, in order of preference: recycling, monofilling, beneficial reuse and landfilling. Critics claimed the policy did not follow proper regulatory procedures. Mr. Mollere said the priority list is no longer in effect.
Many aspects of the waste tire program have already been criticized by Louisiana's inspector general, attorney general and members of the legislature.
The program was developed when the state banned whole tires from landfills in 1989. At the time, there were no permitted tire processors in the state to collect the estimated 3 million scrap tires Louisiana generated annually. Now there are six licensed processors and eight firms with so-called ``mobile authorizations.''
The fund, which now totals about $8 million, also had come under fire for taking in $2 for every new tire sold in the state, but not dispersing any of the $10 million it had accumulated to clean up tire piles.
Mr. Mollere said that situation has changed, as the local parish governments now can prioritize tire abatement (cleanup) sites, award contracts to processors and seek reimbursement from the state fund.
The DEQ is in the process of making the regulations ``more user friendly,'' Mr. Mollere said, and making it easier for tire sites to be listed for abatement.
Meanwhile, the potential federal investigation ``hasn't affected our staff,'' said Mr. Mollere. The agency spent two weeks compiling the subpoenaed documents, reportedly including invoices, manifests and records submitted by companies involved in the scrap tire business.