ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION OR TOOL
Status of GAO Recommendations: As of May 23, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had implemented 174 of the 325 recommendations GAO made in fiscal years 2006 through 2015. EPA had not yet implemented the remaining 151 recommendations. Among those unimplemented OIG and GAO recommendations, several are of great interest to the Committee’s oversight efforts.
Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory
Oversight Hearing June 14, 2016: ” For example, EPA has yet to implement various GAO recommendations regarding the Agency’s procedures for processing Congressional requests for scientific advice by the Agency’s Science Advisory Board. Further, EPA has yet to implement nearly two-year-old recommendations from GAO to improve its regulatory impact analyses, including updates to the way EPA estimates the impact its regulations have on employment. Finally, EPA still needs to implement various recommendations from the OIG to ensure its hiring process is sound in light of the John Beale scandal and the Agency’s recent mass hiring.”
“EPA Regulations: Too Much, Too Little, or On Track”- Congressional Research Service Report.
This report has been updated frequently since the first version was released early in 2011. Many of the issues that were raised then regarding specific regulations have now been resolved—at least to the extent that proposed rules have been finalized. Still, the broader question of whether the Obama Administration’s EPA is “overreaching” in its regulatory efforts has not gone away. Critics both in Congress and outside of it regularly accuse the agency of overkill. In April 2013, in a case involving four of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory actions, for example, a dozen states led by Texas asked the Supreme Court to “rein in a usurpatious agency and remind the President and his subordinates that they cannot rule by executive decree.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee dealt a significant budget blow to the Environmental Protection Agency on June 15, 2016 as lawmakers debated the agency’s role in the water crisis surrounding Flint, Michigan. The committee’s spending bill for Interior Department agencies funds the EPA at $7.98 billion for fiscal 2017, a $164 million reduction of fiscal 2016 enacted levels and $291 million below President Barack Obama’s budget proposal. In a series of hearings held this year, has accused the EPA of casting a blind eye to contaminated water problems in Flint, Michigan. The agency has also been criticized for its contamination of the Animus River in Colorado.
“As we make these investments in effective and necessary programs, it’s important that we also take a look at what is not working within our federal government. Without a doubt, the EPA’s regulatory agenda is not working,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the committee chairman.
Special accounts are an important part of the Superfund program and play a critical role in achieving cleanup of contaminated sites nationwide. The Agency’s goal for the establishment and use of special accounts is to provide ready access to potentially responsible party (PRP) cleanup dollars for sites where future response work remains, which preserves resources from the Superfund Trust Fund for sites without viable PRPs. Special accounts are funded entirely with money received from PRPs, and not with funds provided by Congress through the Superfund Trust Fund appropriation.
More than $4 billion have been deposited in special accounts through PRP settlements. Over $2 billion of those settlement dollars have been spent on Superfund site cleanups and the balance is planned to be used for ongoing or future Superfund cleanup work.
EPA policy is that funds from a settlement should be deposited into a special account only if future work remains at that site. The funds received in settlement can be money the PRP pays for future work at the site or to reimburse EPA for its previous costs at the site.
The special account is established as a sub-account within the Superfund Trust Fund – a “special” account.
Special accounts provide three principal benefits:
–Serve as a settlement incentive for potentially responsible parties to perform work;
–Preserve appropriated resources for use at sites with no viable potentially responsible parties; and
–Complete more Superfund response work by maximizing both appropriated and special account funds.
Status of Special Accounts per EPA website:
In fiscal year (FY) 2015, EPA
- created approximately 49 special accounts,
- deposited about $1.778 billion into special accounts,
- earned over $16.8 million in interest on its special accounts,
- for a total of $1.795 billion,
- disbursed or obligated more than $259 million for response work,
- reimbursed itself for over $36 million worth of past cleanup related costs at sites,
- closed 29 special accounts, and
- transferred $974,098 of special account receipts to the Superfund Trust Fund.
From FY 1990 through FY 2015, EPA
- created approximately 1,308 special accounts,
- deposited over $6.3 billion into special accounts,
- earned over $445 million in interest on its special accounts,
- for a total of $6.766 billion,
- disbursed or obligated $2.949 billion for response work,
- reimbursed itself for over $367 million worth of past cleanup related costs at sites,
- closed 283 special accounts, and
- transferred $27.7 million of special account
For years we have seen EPA gathering strength and issuing policies. Congress has been discussing and attempting to get legislation through to address this overly ambitious agency. At one time, like many activist groups, there was a real purpose to their establishment. One problem I can see is that having first slowed and begun the evolution in pollution and other environmental protection projects EPA has now found itself having to follow the mundane and with reduced needs feeling a bit irrelevant.
Here is what I mean–let’s consider mercury. It burst on the scene as a serious concern. EPA had a goal then worked to reduce this toxic material throughout the country. Now that the levels of mercury have dropped considerably, there is less need for burdensome new regulations. So instead of following through and following up on the current practices, EPA is now doubling down.
They are producing new regulations nearly every day which are more restrictive, more onerous, and with the lowered current levels of many issues and current economic conditions are killing businesses who have reams of regulations to wade through. Instead of streamlining and reducing the regulations as the count drops, they are simply piling more and more paperwork and restrictions which create more and more stress. In other words, making themselves appear more relevant while having no clear focus and strategy once their original goal has been met.
Instead of revamping and monitoring on a consistent basis, they are simply fighting fires as they spring up. This is neither cost efficient nor acceptable. They have a LOT of special fund money that they should be using in clean up but are they? Doesn’t look that way to me. They are instead tapping congress for the cost.
Their own people have difficulty performing standardized policies which should have been part of training and continued consistent behavior. Prime example is the Colorado Animas River travesty. It was created by their own people yet had a consistent practice been in place no different from any employee in any business being properly trained for daily procedural activities then the actions of their crew would not have caused the very obvious mistake. Unless, of course, someone was deliberately sabotaging the accident in order to achieve some heinous goal. It did after all highlight glaring problems of abandoned mines and accidental releases.
Has that mistake been cleaned up? Did EPA pull from its special funds in order to solve the issue? Well, first they took responsibility and issued $2 million to affected tribes and people from the Clean Water fund and another $3 million for emergency response expenses. So is the area again pristine and safe? Not even close. The EPA is slow-moving on all counts. Nor have reports noted that members of EPA responsible received discipline or were fired.
There are many other examples in many other fields of problems EPA is at the heart of in negligence or overstepping of authority (like Flint MI). Several lawsuits are in progress on many of them and local economies drastically affected by their attitudes and constant policy additions. So again taxpayers are being drained.
Unless Congress and a new President can rein in the different agencies currently strong-arming the public and businesses. Perhaps a change in the management would help. Citizens willing to get watchdog groups of attorneys on board might slow the effort but that is an expensive and short-term fix only. Stricter enforcement procedures by Congress is about the only real option otherwise EPA and the other rogue agencies will continue their tactics while doubling down on their demands.