According to a recent news report, local Sierra Club chapters are reactivating programs that support volunteers who inspect construction sites for potential violations of environmental laws.  For many years, the national Sierra Club organization has had programs to “connect people with their waterways” by having them conduct local water quality testing and monitoring.  At times, these programs also involved volunteers inspecting construction sites.

This program has not been used as frequently since the Great Recession began in 2008; however, Sierra Club reportedly once again sees the need for the program as there has been more development since the recovery of the economy.

For example, a local Sierra Club Chapter in the suburbs of Chicago had a “Water Sentinel” program that, for the past 10 years, supported volunteers who collected water samples and brought them to the Illinois Math and Science Academy to be tested.  The results would then be shared with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.  Since the Great Recession, the Water Sentinel Program morphed into a group that was more involved in advocacy for the Sierra Club.  Now that there has been an increase in development, the Sierra Club is expanding its voluntary programs and will again be using a new program, called “Runoff Rangers” to inspect construction sites.  While the volunteers may not actually be going onto construction sites, they will be checking the surroundings of construction sites to determine whether there is improper runoff and to determine if there are any other violations of environmental laws. The volunteers will be armed with checklists to help them know what they should be looking for and to help them determine whether there are any violations onsite.

This development is important for contractors because environmental organizations will be taking a closer look at construction sites to determine whether or not there is compliance with environmental regulations and rules.  These organizations can and will turn over their findings to state and federal environmental agencies and encourage those agencies to file enforcement actions against contractors.  If the agencies fail to respond, the environmental groups may file citizen-suits against contractors asserting violations of environmental laws or regulations.

Therefore, it is crucial that contractors continue their best efforts to comply with all environmental rules and regulations, and to conduct regular inspections to ensure compliance on projects.