Energy & Environment

The EPA won’t be able to protect anyone without money

glass of water
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glass of water

The president’s pick to lead the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Susan Parker Bodine, certainly has a relevant background for her nomination. However, her philosophical approach to the role of government in protecting human health is not in line with the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In her written statement submitted for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, she stated that she appreciated “that most of our environmental laws are built around the framework of cooperative federalism.”

{mosads}The fact of the matter is that most of the states, with rare exception, have already been authorized to manage the federal environmental programs. To do so, they must have sufficient budget and staffing, as well as laws that are at least as stringent as the federal laws — like the Clean Water Act. In other words, we have been practicing ‘cooperative federalism’ for years, with the EPA working in partnership with the states, tribal authorities and municipalities.


The problem is that at least 33 of the 50 states face budget shortfalls in 2017 and 2018. These are states that need the EPA’s expertise and enforcement support and most importantly, federal dollars to assist them in carrying out programs. Bodine was remarkably silent on the proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget. How will these states carry out the federal environmental statutes while facing their own budget deficits, along with less money from the EPA, and ever diminishing EPA staffing levels.?

Bodine stated that she is “excited [to] create a driving force for economic growth as well as environmental protection; promote a culture of environmental responsibility; and continue to ensure compliance with our nation’s environmental laws.”

I have been with the EPA for 31 years, and in the environmental field for at least 40 years — I cannot remember a time when the agency was not a driving force for the economy. Since the EPA came into existence in 1970, an entirely new market niche was created and the United States became a world leader in environmental protection. The U.S. economy has gone from a Dow Jones of over 4,800 in August 1970, to almost 22,000 in August 2017.

When Bodine was the assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, she argued that Superfund sites needed more time, badly polluted sites that require long-term clean up. I disagree. I believe that we need more money to affect the cleanups, and go after the potentially responsible parties.

Bodine’s earlier view seems to openly conflict with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who believes he can personally force cleanups at a faster pace. The fact of the matter is that the Superfund program needs more money. Superfund sites are languishing today because there is no ‘Superfund’ to pay for the cleanups. So, the agency finds itself embattled with the potentially responsible parties who string out the entire remediation process, perhaps in the hopes of Pruitt allowing them to do what they want — not what is needed.

How can Bodine accept this nomination knowing that her own budget will be cut? While the most egregious sites are addressed with the money budgeted, what about the children playing on or near one of the 1,300 Superfund sites across the country? What about dangerous carcinogen vapors intruding into homeowners’ basements with the potential for explosions? How does this administration propose to evaluate and classify the existing Superfund sites as ‘egregious’ or not? Superfund sites should not be classified for partisan reasons.

How is Bodine’s concept of ‘cooperative federalism’ going to speed up Superfund cleanups, stop pollution at the state lines and ensure safe drinking water for municipalities downstream from polluters, particularly with the repeal of the Waters of the United States rule?

How is Bodine going to enforce the law of the land with less money and fewer attorneys at the EPA? We have a lot of questions about the current administration’s approach to our air, land and water. We cannot afford a massive miscalculation or an outright surrender to polluters.

John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals #238 and represents more than 9000 U.S. EPA employees. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Donald Trump EPA John O’Grady Scott Priutt

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