EPA Toots its own Horn, but NRDC Blows the Whistle

EPA crows that 2001 saw record-setting expenditures by violators to pay for pollution controls and environmental cleanup, while the NRDC grumbles that the administration is "attacking" key environmental safeguards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tooting its own horn. The agency released data on its enforcement and compliance assurance results for FY 2001 that includes record-setting expenditures of $4.3 billion by violators for pollution controls and environmental cleanup.

EPA also secured commitments for an estimated reduction of more than 660 million pounds of harmful pollutants and the treatment and safe management of an estimated record 1.84 billion pounds of pollutants.

"With our state and local partners, we set a high priority on areas that posed serious threats to health and the environment," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "The administration is determined to actively pursue those who fail to comply with the law while working closely with the regulated community to find workable and flexible solutions."

EPA''s FY2001 enforcement and compliance results include:

  • Actions requiring violators to invest $4.3 billion in pollution control and cleanup measures - the highest-ever such investment;
  • Enforcement actions requiring violators to reduce an estimated 660 million pounds of pollutants and treat and safely manage an estimated 1.84 billion pounds;
  • The settlement of 222 civil judicial cases and the issuance of 3,228 administrative orders and field citations;
  • A vigorous criminal program resulting in prison sentences totaling 256 years - an increase of more than 100 years over FY2000 - for criminal violations; such violations also resulted in nearly $95 million in fines and restitution;
  • Supplemental environmental projects totaling $89 million - up 60 percent from $55.8 million in FY2000; these involve actions beyond injunctive relief that a violator agrees to undertake to protect the environment and human health in exchange for a penalty reduction; and
  • Compliance assistance for more than 1 million individuals and businesses by direct assistance or through EPA''s Compliance Assistance Centers.

EPA undertook a strategic, comprehensive effort to achieve environmental and health protection goals through incentives that encourage those being regulated to conduct self-audits and inspections of facilities to identify violations, and to take strong and swift enforcement actions to correct existing violations and deter further ones. Agreements under the agency''s audit policy with 364 companies resulted in the correction of violations at 1,754 facilities.

Not everyone is pleased with the Bush administration''s efforts to safeguard the environment. According to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), key Bush administration agencies - including EPA - "have been quietly carrying out a coordinated attack on key environmental safeguards." The NRDC claims that nearly 80 agency actions span the spectrum of the nation''s most important environmental programs, including those protecting the air, water, forests, wildlife and public lands. The report also claims that the administration intensified its efforts after Sept. 11, when public attention was diverted by the war on terrorism.

"Our landmark environmental laws face the gravest challenge since the assaults of the Newt Gingrich Congress of 1995, and perhaps ever," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC''s director of advocacy. "The threat this time is more insidious, and potentially more dangerous. The Bush administration is quietly subverting federal agency rules that translate environmental laws into specific requirements for industry."

The report, "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration''s Unseen Assault on the Environment," provides a review of federal agency actions since Sept. 11 and an appendix of all actions since last January.

"NRDC''s report raises a number of serious questions about the administration of our environmental laws," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). "There is broad, bipartisan support for strong enforcement of these essential statutes, and I am concerned that too often the Bush administration has frustrated, not furthered, the government''s ability to protect our environment."

Lieberman added, "This pattern has been a source of ongoing concern to me, and I will continue to examine the management of our environmental laws in both my capacity as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and as the chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee."

The report makes special note of several Bush administration proposals, including:

  • A pending EPA proposal that NRDC says will undermine a fundamental Clean Air Act requirement directing older power plants, refineries and other major air pollution sources to install state-of-the-art cleanup equipment when they expand or modernize their facilities.
  • A recent Army Corps of Engineers proposal that reverses the "no net loss" of wetlands policy issued under the first Bush Administration, which has been the cornerstone of America''s approach to wetlands preservation for more than a decade.
  • An Interior Department rulemaking that NRDC claims undermines the minimal environmental safeguards for private mining company operations on public lands, and renounces the agency''s own authority to deny an operating permit to a mine causing "irreparable harm" to the environment.
  • A White House effort to block a key program to stem the discharge of raw sewage into America''s waters.

The report also documents what the NRDC says are efforts to promote clear-cutting in pristine national forests, roll back safeguards for storing nuclear waste, weaken controls on untreated livestock waste from factory farms, and undermine protections for national parks and national monuments.

"It''s not news that the Bush administration has an anti-environmental bias," Wetstone said. "The early months of the administration were largely defined by public disapproval of its environment and energy policies, including in particular, furors over arsenic in drinking water, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the president''s broken promise to curb global warming pollution from power plants."

For its part, EPA says that its major priorities in 2001 included compliance with the Clean Air Act New Source Review/Prevention of Significant Deterioration rules dealing with excess pollutant releases from facilities evading permit requirements; regulations governing protection of drinking water and illegal discharges from combined and sanitary sewer outflows and animal feeding operations; and compliance by permit evaders, those practicing illegal hazardous waste practices in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

According to EPA, violators paid $125 million in civil penalties to the United States and an additional $25.2 million to states.

Further information on EPA enforcement and compliance programs is available at www.epa.gov/oeca/main/fedgov/accomplish.html.

The NRDC report can be accessed at www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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