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Remnants of long-ago oil field activity rise from the water in swamps of the Spanish Lake sub-basin last year inside a land bank’s holdings. The private bank, Spanish Lake Restoration, which sells credits to restore the swamp, alleges in a lawsuit that the oil field activity has contaminated parts of the bank property.

State authorities have acceded to environmental groups who lambasted a recent proposal to loosen requirements on pollution clean-up.

The Risk Evaluation/Corrective Action Program — or RECAP — lays out how to test contaminated soil and groundwater sites and dictates how pollution is to be cleaned up.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality proposed updating the rules. At a public hearing last week scientists, engineers and conservationists said that the proposed new standards would allow double, triple, up to 1,000 times higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals.

DEQ has now announced it will withdraw its proposal but continue working on the issue.

State officials had framed the changes as an opportunity to streamline the remediation process. No matter how much time and money they throw at a contaminated site, it's often impossible to restore the location to pristine conditions. Rather than focus on "futile" efforts, those resources could be better redirected toward projects with a higher return on investment regarding human health and the environment, the department reasoned in its proposal.

An ancillary benefit: with less-stringent requirements, land that's sitting idle could return to commerce and contribute to tax collections, DEQ wrote in its notice of intent.

Opponents skewered the plan, saying it was giving polluters a free pass to leave behind more chemicals that can cause disease, organ damage, genetic mutation and infertility. They challenged DEQ's assertion that the changes were based on new scientific research. And they were sharply critical that authorities didn't do more to solicit public input and scheduled a public hearing just a few days before Mardi Gras.

In response, the department has ended the current rule-making process. However, RECAP is likely to resurface. In the notice of withdrawal, the state says DEQ intends "to further engage stakeholders and allow additional outreach."


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.