EPA watchdog calls for improved enforcement presence after decade-long decline

EPA watchdog calls for improved enforcement presence after decade-long decline

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General identified a decline in enforcement activity within the agency from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2018 in a report released Thursday.

In the report, the inspector general said the decline was primarily the result of resource constraints and leadership decisions within the agency. Those decisions included shifting resources to major cases and, as of 2017, deferring to state agencies on enforcement, according to the report.

“From 2006 through 2018, growth in the domestic economy and new laws increased the size and level of activity in key sectors that the EPA regulated, but the EPA’s capacity to meet that need decreased,” the report states.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We recommend that the EPA’s assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance complete a workforce analysis to assess the Agency’s capacity to maintain a strong enforcement field presence that protects human health and the environment and to integrate the results of this analysis into the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance’s strategic and annual planning processes,” the office added.

The report also noted the agency’s annual enforcement reports do not provide full context for enforcement activity in many cases, specifically citing the lack of data on activities like compliance activities, noncompliance rates and informal enforcement activities.

The inspector general report also suggested possibly providing further information in categories such as type of inspection and type of pollutants removed during enforcement activity.

The watchdog recommended that the EPA develop new measures for compliance assistance and informal enforcement and evaluate its yearly performance measures.

It further suggested better tracking of environmental program noncompliance, as well as creating a public dashboard “that shows trends in Agency-led enforcement activities and actions and is similar to the dashboards that the Agency has already prepared for state enforcement programs.”

The announcement comes weeks after the EPA’s compliance chief instructed staff in an internal memo to ramp up agency enforcement of regulations in communities hit hard by pollution and environmental damage.