Enforcement Changes On Tap For Bush's EPA

Enforcement activities at EPA will be carried on very differently\r\nnow that George W. Bush is President, according to one prominent\r\nenvironmental attorney from Washington, D.C.

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Enforcement activities at EPA will be carried on very differently now that George W. Bush is President, according to one prominent environmental attorney from Washington, D.C.

Attorney Paul Wallach made the prediction during a media briefing Tuesday at the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative organization that "defends and promotes the principles of free enterprise and individual rights."

Wallach, a senior partner at the Washington law firm of Hale & Dorr, specializes in defending business and industries against environmentally related civil and criminal enforcement actions.

Wallach expects that EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman will be "much more balanced" in her approach to regulatory enforcement activities than was Carol Browner, who ran the agency in the Clinton Administration.

In order to bring about that much needed balanced approach, Wallach believes that Whitman must be willing to expunge the numerically based "bean counting" philosophy that guided EPA''s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) during the Browner years.

Wallach said, the "pressure for enforcement numbers" that was so prevalent at EPA during the Clinton Administration "blurred the lines between enforcement activities and policy initiatives."

"Enforcement should be there to enforce the law and the policy not to make the law and the policy," Wallach said.

Last month, before Bush became President, EPA released data on its major enforcement and compliance assurance activities for fiscal year 2000.

EPA took more than 6,000 environmental enforcement actions during the last year of the Clinton Administration, the most in the 30 year history of the agency.

In that 12 month period, EPA leveled nearly $225 million in civil and criminal penalties.

Wallach argued that the numbers mean nothing, saying that "every bean is not equal" in terms of illustrating the effectiveness, or the lack thereof, of EPA''s environmental enforcement program.

He said that "in order to change the flawed system, Whitman and the Bush Administration will have to develop some legitimate measures to gauge progress at EPA.

Wallach called on EPA to expand its use of self-audit programs, which are generally designed to give polluters qualified immunity from criminal prosecution and civil penalties if they voluntarily disclose their environmental violations.

Approximately 430 companies took advantage of EPA''s self-audit incentive programs last year.

Environmental advocacy groups have long criticized self-audits, saying they are ineffective and keep crucial health-related information from the public.

Wallach dismissed those criticisms, saying that the new administration should not be "accused of dropping environmental protection" by developing sound and effective self-audit programs.

"It''s clear that industry, overall, desires a strong enforcement program," said Wallach. "I don''t think there''s a responsible member of the corporate community who feels that enforcement should go away, and that there should not be a strong program."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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