EPA Enforcement Chief Testifies Before House Subcommittee

(March 5, 2019) - The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on Tuesday, February 26 titled, EPA's Enforcement Program: Taking the Environmental Cop Off the Beat.

Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, testified at the hearing, where Democratic lawmakers pressed her on significant drops in inspections, penalty collections and referrals of cases to the Department of Justice.

EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) released its annual report on February 8 covering its initiatives and actions for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.  The report looks at several different criminal and civil enforcement “outcomes” including enforcement actions initiated and concluded, as well as penalties assessed, and inspections conducted.

For civil enforcement, there was a decrease in overall enforcement actions as compared to the previous nine fiscal years. Civil penalties assessed were lower last year than any fiscal year this decade and were drastically lower than the previous two years, but that was in part due to record penalties in the FY17 Volkswagen case and the FY16 British Petroleum Oil Spill settlement.

Bodine said in her testimony that despite these numbers, EPA is achieving results by making compliance and enforcement processes more efficient. She testified that “a strong environment program doesn’t mean we have to collect a particular dollar amount or pick up a number of penalties.”  She also noted that EPA has played an important role in working with states over the past year to state-based enforcement actions, which are not reflected in the federal enforcement numbers. 

While enforcement is necessary in certain circumstances, NACWA has long advocated for a compliance-assistance-first approach in dealing with local governments and public utilities, which do not profit from noncompliance.  NAWCA has also advocated for a shift away from penalties as a primary metric of success.  The Association believes that EPA’s current focus on working with states and providing compliance assistance instead of immediate enforcement in appropriate circumstances is a positive step forward for the municipal clean water community. 

The recording of Bodine’s testimony is available here.  Any members with questions about NACWA’s role on enforcement issues can contact Amanda Waters, NACWA’s General Counsel.