Having been in the industry for over 30 years, it is disturbing to see what the environmental remediation industry has become. Gone are the days where having the job performed to the highest professional and safety standard was most important and the price was a distant second or third. I am not completely sure but I believe the transition started around the same time the State Agencies began holding the purse strings on Underground Storage Tank (UST) Trust Funds.
The Charlotte, North Carolina phone book only had about one page of Geotechnical \ Environmental consulting companies in the mid-to-late-80s and now there are a dozen or more pages of them. Is competition the problem? I don’t think so. The standards that use to be maintained have faded into the past and the only thing that matters now is price. Looking at the lack of quality in the Site Assessment documents being submitted today sure backs up the saying you get what you pay for. I don’t know how anyone could take the vague, cookie cutter information that is on file at SCDHEC and try to design a decent remediation system from it. But this is all that the State agencies are willing to pay for? In North Carolina, it doesn’t matter if you need to run that pilot test for more that the allotted number of hours so the system does not have to be over designed to make up for the lack of good design information. If you run over you will not get paid. Not to mention the fact that you will already be waiting 6 to 9 months to get paid anyway. What if the tax payers (what few of us there are) decided to pay our taxes 9 months late or to tell the government you will get paid 7 days after I do and that could be never? How long before they put you in jail?
Just because you are in a big consulting company doesn’t make your work quality good or being in a small company make it bad. In the 80s, a new geologist or engineer would train under a senior person for a minimum of four years before they could move up to the project level which usually coincided with them get state registration. The move from staff to project meant more money to the employee and a higher billing rate for the Company. Now you see people two months out of school moving to project level and others not even registered being called “Senior level”. The reason companies do this is obvious for the higher billing rates. And while there may be some smart young people out there, they still lack experience and it will show in their work product. Whose fault is this? It is surely not the young inexperienced engineer or geologist fault. Would you want a Doctor with no training to perform your operation? That is not likely because there is a system in place to prevent it.
Environmental consulting companies in the Carolinas are forced to work the system best they can in order to be able to survive at the commodity rates being paid. Is working with a Company that performs high quality work, stands behind its work and delivers something when they say they will worth a few extra bucks? I think it is, but I may be in the minority on that.
I speak with people every day who complain about the way things are today and the low quality work the regulatory agencies are willing to accept to get a low price. They go through the motions but then wonder how come incidents that were reported in the 1980’s are still on the books and have not been cleaned up and some have not been fully assessed. Remediation sites are awarded in SC to the Company with the lowest price instead of the best technology to get the job done. Looking at the EPA’s website it is interesting to see how States without UST trust funds and without Regulatory hands on the purse strings have the fewest projects waiting to be cleaned up. Is it a novel idea to let the responsible party (RP) be responsible? The Trust Funds just allow those people who created the mess to have it paid for by everyone who buys fuel in their State. Insurance is available for these situations but nobody wants to pay for it. The politicians don’t want the people who line their pockets to have to pay when they can have the taxpayers pay instead. That well is dry. These are just my observations. I could be wrong. What do you think?
Brian E. Chew Sr. P.G.