Department of Environmental Corruption

Sometimes the most interesting environmental stories occur on the state and local level, where their implications tend to be ignored by the media. In a story that got little play outside the capital city of Hartford last July, Anne Rapkin, a former chief legal counsel for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), quietly settled a discrimination lawsuit against the state. The suit—aimed at a government agency that apparently refused to do its job—cost already beleaguered state taxpayers more than $3 million.

Former Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Art Rocque: paying the lawyers.©STEPHEN DUNN/THE HARTFORD COURANT

Environmental shenanigans are nothing new in Connecticut, whose Republican governor, John Rowland, resigned last summer amid widespread charges of self-enrichment and cronyism. In one sweetheart deal, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) lost $220 million in a failed contract with bankrupt Enron (whose executives had contributed $80,000 to the Republican Governors Association, chaired by Rowland, and $1 million to his re-election campaign).

In another cozy arrangement, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group says DEP political appointee Vito Santarsiero, who resigned in 1998, allegedly "fixed environmental violations for those who gave, usually through major campaign contributions."

As Carole Bass reported in the New Haven Advocate, "The door was opened to "creative" ways to find multi-million-dollar rewards for Rowland allies." One avenue was to lean on state agencies like DEP and CRRA to buy environmentally themed companies owned by the governor’s supporters. The dubious candidates included a fuel-cell farm tied to big Republican donors and a for-profit soil recycling company.

In the Rapkin case, the state bought her silence on DEP matters in exchange for a disability pension and $200,000 for the law firm that represented her. After the state Attorney General refused to defend the DEP’s actions, the agency spent approximately $2.3 million on private counsel.

"In essence, it was a career buyout," says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). "The state of Connecticut was paying for her to give up her First Amendment rights. The root issue is the inability or unwillingness of the public agencies to enforce the law."

Rapkin was fired in 1999 for filing a whistleblower complaint. She claimed she was prevented from enforcing environmental laws against state contractors who, not coincidentally, provided landscaping work for the private homes of DEP employees at below-market cost and donated to former Governor Rowland’s campaign. She also tangled with Santarsiero, who reportedly gave a politically connected company under investigation access to investigative files on a state computer.

Rick Melita, political director of the Connecticut State Employees Association, noted that outgoing DEP commissioner Arthur Rocque complained that the agency was chronically underfunded. "I would imagine that the $3, $4, $5 or even $6 million that they spent on the Rapkin case could have gone a long way toward handling those challenges,” he told reporters.