EPA protects people by enforcing the law

EPA protects people by enforcing the law
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America has come a long way in protecting public health and the environment over the past 45 years. Since 1970, we’ve cut air pollution by nearly 70 percent, while our economy has tripled in size. America’s environmental laws have provided a solid foundation for success, but they’re only part of the equation. Without resources to work hand in hand with state, local and tribal partners to enforce these laws, progress isn’t possible. Laws talk the talk, but enforcement walks the walk.

When rules under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other laws are not followed, people suffer. Neighborhoods become polluted, livelihoods become threatened and the health of kids and families are put at risk.

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Enforcement programs keep dangerous illegal activity in check. They hold violators accountable and deter bad actors. They level the playing field for businesses that play by the rules. And most of all, they provide security and protection to people across America, who depend on clean air, water and land to live healthy,
productive lives.

Responsible businesses across the country prove every day that complying with the law actually protects their bottom lines. But even with clear rules and standards, major violations still occur. That’s why the EPA’s enforcement office is
essential. 

Volkswagen, one of the world’s largest automakers, recently admitted that some of its diesel cars are emitting up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide. Companies that cheat on pollution control requirements threaten the health of children and the elderly. They violate consumer trust. And they skew the playing field for businesses that follow the law. Working with the California Air Resources Board, we are investigating this very serious matter and are committed to making sure that all automakers play by the rules.

Years ago, EPA inspections uncovered piles of hazardous waste that were improperly managed by one of the world’s largest fertilizer companies. The EPA, in partnership with the affected states, began building a strong case for legal action. Earlier this month, a settlement was reached requiring the company, Mosaic, to set up a trust that will total $1.8 billion to properly dispose of nearly 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste at facilities across Florida and Louisiana. Mismanaged waste can pose serious risks to groundwater and waterways. That’s why we have federal laws like the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and why we must remain vigilant in tracking waste from cradle to grave. With the Mosaic settlement, communities are gaining security, piece of mind and protection over the long term.

Also this month, the EPA, along with states, the Justice Department and other federal agencies, reached a $20 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a tragedy that ended lives and inflicted damage along the Gulf Coast. This is the largest settlement with a single entity in U.S. history. But more importantly, nearly all of the settlement money will be put to work strengthening the Gulf Coast through a 15-year restoration plan. The remainder will go to a fund that pays for responses to future spills. Thanks to a dogged enforcement effort by the EPA and partners, BP is being held accountable for what the District Court judge deemed “gross negligence,” and Gulf communities will directly benefit from a long-term, well-funded plan to restore and rebuild.

That’s what justice and accountability look like. 

Environmental enforcement promotes cross-sector collaboration with affected communities, and it unlocks opportunities to innovate. The EPA is pushing forward on a range of advanced monitoring technologies that could both help entities stay in compliance with the law and make it easier to identify violators. Our economy benefits when American businesses compete to create these technologies, whether it’s infrared cameras that detect emissions leaks, fence-line monitors that track air quality around refineries in real time or online data portals that allow anyone to track the pollution status of facilities near them. 

The bottom line is, strong standards are a key step, but it’s our ability to implement those standards that turns promises of protection into a healthy reality for Americans. That’s where the rubber meets the road. 

Only when we invest to make sure our standards are well understood and fully met can we ensure that our children’s health is protected, environmental resources are sustained and responsible businesses get a fair shot at success. 

Recent high-profile cases only reinforce that America still needs an environmental watchdog with grit and teeth.

McCarthy is the 13th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, serving since 2013.