Nearly 11,000 U.S. facilities discharged pollutants into local waters beyond the levels allowed under the law, the Environmental Protection Agency told a nonpartisan congressional watchdog.
In a report released Monday, the Government Accountability Office said that the EPA found that in 2018, close to 11,000 facilities with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits illegally dumped large amounts of pollutants into local waters. As of fiscal 2020, some 335,000 facilities have active NPDES permits, 60,000 of which are required to monitor pollutant discharge.
The following year, the EPA announced it would prioritize reducing the number of NPDES-noncompliant facilities, an initiative set to last from fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2023.
In its analysis, the EPA points to its EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)'s lack of compliance measures, saying that while they track statistics of compliance, they do not properly track how it improves water quality. OECA does not currently have an outcomes-based measure that monitors improvements to water quality or reduction in pollutants discharged.
In its explanation, the OECA said they at first estimated illegal pollutants discharged based on facilities engaged in “significant noncompliance.” However, they later reviewed the data and abandoned efforts to develop a pollution-reduction measure, focusing instead on improving underlying data, according to the report.
The report notes that the agency uses other measures incorporating pollutant reduction for other programs, in some cases specifically in response to recommendations. For example, after a 2008 recommendation that the EPA clearly disclose the number of pollutants in pounds when reporting civil enforcement outcomes. The agency complied with the recommendation beginning in fiscal 2011.
“Without a plan for selecting and analyzing a statistically valid probability sample of discharge monitoring data to assess the accuracy of this data, OECA does not have the information it needs to assess the quality of the universe of discharge monitoring data recorded in ICIS-NPDES that it uses to track progress in reducing facilities’ rates of noncompliance," officials wrote.
The Hill has reached out to the EPA for comment.