Environmental Protection

EPA holds the thin green line to protect the public

What Does Enforcement Mean to You?

EPA holds the thin green line to protect the public
Granta Nakayama
As the head of EPA’s national enforcement and compliance assurance program, I’m charged with protecting the nation’s land, water, and air by enforcing federal environmental laws and regulations. I sum up our enforcement program in this one sentence: “The cop is on the beat.”

The facts bear that out.

We have an increased budget, precedent-setting enforcement settlements, and renewed efforts to engage the public in discovering violations. Our 2008 proposed budget, which totals $549.5 million for enforcement and compliance, is the highest in EPA’s history. In
government, as in any organization, a good sign of commitment is the budget.

Our results demonstrate that we used our budget resources effectively and well. Last year (fiscal year 2006), we prevented 890 million pounds of pollution from entering the environment – the fourth highest annual total on record. During fiscal years 2004 and 2005, our actions resulted in 1.1 billion and 1 billion pounds of pollution reduced, respectively, through environmental enforcement settlements, which are the second and third highest annual totals on record. Over the past five years, our enforcement efforts have prevented nearly 4 billion pounds of pollution from entering the environment.

Our settlements with combined and sanitary sewer systems to reduce or prevent pollution from overflows of untreated or inadequately treated sewage are particularly noteworthy. Combined sewer systems are designed to collect rainwater run-off, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater while sanitary sewers handle raw sewage. These fiscal year 2006 settlements accounted for more than $1.8 million in civil penalties and an estimated investment of $930 million in sewer system upgrades and improvements. Most recently, in a record settlement with the city of Indianapolis, Ind., the city committed to spend
$1.86 billion to reduce sewer overflows totaling nearly 8 billion gallons of untreated wastewater each year, as well as funding a project to eliminate failing septic systems.

In addition to civil settlements, we have a strong program to discover criminal activity and enforce the laws against such activity. The criminal enforcement power is uniquely suited to deal with violations that are willful or intentional, and for which civil penalties and injunctive relief alone are not adequate. Nothing matches the deterrence impact of a jail sentence. We have seen a marked impact on the behavior of the regulated community in several industries after strong criminal enforcement efforts. Based on the efforts of our criminal agents last year, defendants will serve 154 years in jail and pay almost $43 million in fines, as well as another $29 million for projects imposed as part of the sentences.

Securing industry's investment in environmental remedies is another important tactic we use to protect our environment. Over the past three years, defendants have committed to investing $19.7 billion in pollution controls -- over $26 million per working day. This means taking actions to reduce pollution at the source, clean up spills, install new pollution control equipment, and clean up contaminated soil or water.

And finally, we are engaging the public to help us identify environmental violations. We invite all citizens to help protect our nation’s environment by identifying and reporting environmental violations. It enables 300 million Americans to partner with EPA to protect the environment by reporting suspected violations. We or our state partners investigate these reports. The public can report tips by going to EPA’s homepage www.epa.gov by clicking on the badge icon. EPA received more than 4,000 tips the first year we initiated the public reporting feature.

Clearly, EPA's enforcement work represents the thin green line between billions of pounds of pollution and our nation's public.

WWEMA sees strong program as essential for innovation
Dawn Kristof Champney
Enforcement of environmental regulations may be viewed as a ‘necessary evil’ by some, an ‘essential force’ by others, in helping to ensure that we meet the human health and environmental benefits expected from our environmental laws. If fairly and consistently applied, enforcement creates an even playing field among the regulated community, making certain that one company does not gain an unfair economic advantage over another by ignoring its environmental obligations, and ensuring that all citizens are afforded the same level of quality and safety when taking a drink from the tap or a dip in the ocean.

It goes without saying that whatever requirement is being enforced, it must be justifiable from a human health and environmental protection basis. Our nation’s environmental regulations must be based on sound, scientific evidence that a “real” risk exists that warrants an action that is both attainable and economically achievable. Anything less would be imprudent and would undermine the laudable goals of our environmental laws. We must remain vigilant in subjecting today’s environmental rules to a standard of accountability, to be able to show that the environment and/or public health benefits outweigh the costs of compliance. Assuming that case can be met, then we must be equally vigilant in providing compliance assistance and taking enforcement action when warranted.

From the perspective of companies that develop the products used to help municipalities and industry meet their environmental obligations, having a strong national enforcement program in place is an absolute necessity. Without it, innovation would cease to exist and new technologies that afford greater benefits and reduced costs to the end users would never be developed.

Think about it. In order for a company to be willing to take the necessary business risks and invest in the research and development needed to bring new, cost-effective technologies to the marketplace, there must be a real, “effective” demand for that product. There must be a legitimate “need” for that product and a willingness on the part of the customer to purchase it.

For companies serving the water and wastewater industry, that “need” is most oftentimes predicated on some new regulation that dictates the removal of a toxic compound or the monitoring of a suite of compounds, by way of example. While some regulated entities may take immediate action as conscientious stewards of the environment, others may take a wait-and-see position until pressured to act. Their reluctance to make the necessary investment may be based on legitimate considerations, such as financial constraints. But in the absence of a predictable enforcement regime, they will always find reasons to not take action, be they legitimate ones or not. That leaves the technology developers to question whether they should invest their limited R&D funds to serve a market that may never come to fruition.

Without new technologies, we may never be able to cost-effectively achieve our immediate environmental goals, nor be positioned to address future challenges, such as those posed by new compounds being detected in our water resources and others that may be “introduced” by those with ulterior motives. It is in everyone’s best interest that we encourage the fair use of enforcement as one of many “tools” available to meet our environmental goals of a safe water supply and healthy water ecosystem.

It is those that fear enforcement that we should fear the most!

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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