EPA to Continue ‘Vigorous' Enforcement Of Major Violators in 2014, Giles Says

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By Anthony Adragna

Dec. 16 --The Environmental Protection Agency will prioritize enforcement actions for major air and water pollution violations in 2014 while increasingly relying on new monitoring technologies that will enable more efficient enforcement, the agency's chief enforcement officer told Bloomberg BNA.

Cynthia Giles, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said in an Dec. 16 interview that the agency will prioritize enforcement actions related to air toxics, other large sources of air pollution such as refineries and coal-fired power plants, discharges of raw sewage and stormwater pollution.

Giles acknowledged budget cuts have made enforcement more difficult, but she said the development of new compliance tools that allow real-time monitoring of pollution will make the agency's efforts more efficient.

Budget cuts will mean the EPA might not be able to pursue lower priority cases and will not be able to inspect smaller facilities as it once did, Giles said. The agency's enforcement division has lost staff like the rest of the agency, she said.

Despite the cuts, Giles said the agency remains “determined to make sure our staff has adequate resources” to complete their work.

The agency said in a draft strategic plan for fiscal years 2014-2018 that it would conduct about a third fewer compliance inspections and would initiate 23 percent fewer civil enforcement actions, but Giles rejected the notion those cuts would result in major changes to enforcement.

Cuts Outlined

According to the draft plan, the EPA will reduce the number of compliance inspections to around 14,000 annually from around 20,000 in fiscal year 2012. The agency also plans to initiate around 2,320 civil enforcement cases annually, down from the 3,000 it initiated during fiscal year 2012.

The EPA hopes to conclude 2,000 enforcement cases annually, a decrease from the 3,000 it concluded in fiscal year 2012.

Giles said budget cuts mean the agency has fewer travel dollars to conduct field inspections at all facilities but vowed it would maintain a strong presence at large sites.

That draft strategic plan, released by the agency for public comment through Jan. 3, listed ensuring compliance and enforcement of existing laws as top priorities.

The agency continues to work closely with states on work sharing and setting priorities on enforcement, Giles said. Work on the E-Enterprise system, a portal that will allow states and the EPA to share environmental data electronically, has been “going great” due to a “very robust commitment” from the agency and the states, Giles said.

The Environmental Council of the States unanimously endorsed the creation of the E-Enterprise system in September and signed an agreement with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy creating a group that will develop the system.

Next Generation Compliance

Giles said the agency will use what it calls Next Generation Compliance--defined by the agency as a paradigm “that uses advances in both emissions monitoring and information technology, along with better designed rules, to improve environmental protection” in both enforcement actions and new rulemakings to ensure more efficient compliance.

New compliance tools could allow the agency to spot “outlier facilities” that have not complied with federal regulations like the fertilizer distribution site in West, Texas, that exploded in April 2013.

There has been bipartisan interest in Congress in identifying facilities that fail to comply with federal safety and security regulations, and a federal interagency working group has been looking at ways to increase information sharing between agencies to ensure compliance .

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com