As Pruitt Visits Congress to Discuss Massive EPA Cuts, Don't Lose Sight of Important but Less Visible Damage

by Evan Isaacson | June 14, 2017

With a massive, proposed 31 percent cut to his agency looming in the background, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is preparing to visit Capitol Hill for an appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Lawmakers, their staff, and others are likely and understandably focused on the Paris climate agreement withdrawal, the Trump administration's proposal to end federal financial support for programs that help protect and restore a variety of Great Waters like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and damaging staff cuts that would cripple the agency's ability to protect our health and our environment. But we should be looking beyond the big-ticket items to fully assess the damage that Pruitt and President Trump are proposing to do. 

As someone who focuses on the vitality and sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay and other Great Waters in the United States, I'm convinced that the president's plans to zero out funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will do grave harm to these vital waterbodies. Moreover, apart from zeroing out those programs, the Trump-Pruitt cuts to staff, proposals to close regional offices and eliminate other programs, and rumors about 'reorganizing' the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) to make it less effective would do major damage to efforts to restore our cherished waters and protect these resources and the communities that depend on them. 

Regional and state-level ...

Trump's Nominee for Top EPA Enforcement Lawyer Set to Testify. Here's What We Want to Know.

by Matt Shudtz | June 12, 2017
Susan Bodine, an attorney with significant experience on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) at the agency. She is likely to get a friendly audience tomorrow when she appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about the future of OECA. After all, she's worked closely with everyone on the panel, and there remain some aspects of federal ...

Environmental Enforcement in the Crosshairs: Grave Threats to a Vital Protection for All Americans

by Joel Mintz | December 13, 2016
Efficient, professional law enforcement is a cornerstone of effective and responsible environmental protection. It is the cop on the environmental beat. While some regulated firms will likely continue to comply with environmental requirements in the absence of vigorous, evenhanded enforcement, other companies will certainly proceed to pollute America's air, water, and land with reckless arrogance. With these realities in mind, it is imperative to recognize the serious, potential threat posed to environmental enforcement by the forthcoming Donald Trump administration and ...

Six Thoughts for an Environmental Law Student Wondering What This All Means

by Dave Owen | November 21, 2016
Editor's note: This post was originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog on November 10. While it was primarily written for environmental law students, it contains wisdom for everyone who cares about our environment and our natural heritage. * * *  "As a future environmental attorney, I'm confused and angry and sad. And as a human being, I'm equally as confused and angry and sad. A lot of us students are trying to process all of this today." That was the beginning ...

Hidden Penalties and Secretive Settlements Make for Lousy Enforcement Policy

by Evan Isaacson | July 29, 2016
If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? More to the point, if law enforcement issues a civil or criminal fine or sentence without anyone knowing, does it have an effect? Thinking back to my criminal law course, I recall such philosophical discussions over the various theories justifying criminal penalties, such as incapacitation of the perpetrator, justice for the victim, and restoration of damages. But perhaps the most important theoretical basis ...

The Road to Improved Compliance

by Daniel Farber | June 09, 2016
As I wrote earlier this week, environmental enforcement is not nearly as effective as it should be. EPA and others have been working on finding creative ways of obtaining compliance, often with the help of new technology. One aspect of enforcement that has become clear is the need to focus on small, dispersed sources that may cumulatively cause major problems. EPA has focused its past efforts on the largest non-complying facilities. But EPA has found serious noncompliance in terms of ...

Strong Regs, Spotty Enforcement

by Daniel Farber | June 06, 2016
The political debate over regulation tends to focus on the regulations themselves. But enforcing the regulations is just as important. Despite what you might think from the howls of business groups and conservative commentators, the enforcement system is not nearly as strong as it should be. Twenty years after passage of the Clean Water Act, roughly ten thousand discharges still had no permits whatsoever, 12-13 percent percent of major private and municipal sources were in a "Significant Noncompliance" status during ...

Steinzor in The Environmental Forum: Vital to Prosecute Corporate Bad Actors

by Brian Gumm | May 20, 2016
With the congressional majority continuing to gut enforcement budgets, forcing federal environmental and workplace safety agencies to cut staff, criminal prosecution of corporate bad actors is more important than ever. That's the thrust of Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Rena Steinzor's commentary in the May/June issue of The Environmental Forum, the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute.  As Steinzor notes in the piece:  The BP [oil spill] and Volkswagen [emissions cheating] scan­dals, by their size and audacity, should ...

Reflections on Workers' Memorial Day

by Matt Shudtz | April 28, 2016
Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce. There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work. ...

Steinzor, Panel to Explore What Next Administration Will Mean for Public Protections

by Brian Gumm | March 31, 2016
When it comes to public health, the environment, and social justice, Americans are facing a host of challenges that call out for comprehensive, national solutions. Whether it's climate change, threats to water resources like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, or serious injuries and deaths in the workplace, how we respond as a nation has direct impacts on our everyday lives. Strong standards and effective enforcement of our laws and regulations are key to protecting our health and environment, ...

Environmental Enforcement in the Age of Trump

by Daniel Farber | March 10, 2016
Many thought that the BP Oil Spill would lead to new environmental legislation, as happened after past environmental disasters. That didn’t happen. But something else did happen: BP paid $24 billion in civil and criminal penalties. In an era where any effort at government regulation is immediately denounced as a dire threat to liberty, there was nary a peep out of Republican politicians about these massive penalties. Nor do I hear Trump, Cruz, or Rubio defending Volkswagen from penalties. The moral is ...

Convictions for Violations of the Clean Water Act Continue to Ebb

by William Andreen | October 19, 2010
According to the latest data published by TRAC Reports, the number of federal convictions obtained for violations of the Clean Water Act during fiscal year 2010 has continued to follow a recent downward trajectory. Since reaching a high of nearly 70 in FY 1998, the number of convictions has continued to decline toward what may be its lowest level since the early 1990s. During the first ten months of FY 2010, the Department of Justice reported 23 convictions, a pace that would ...

Riding a New Wave: EPA Considers Dramatic Changes to CWA Enforcement

by Yee Huang | April 19, 2010
A recent Water Policy Report article reported that EPA is considering dramatic changes to its Clean Water Act enforcement and permitting program and oversight of state permitting programs. Many of the changes under consideration, including prioritizing the most significant pollution problems, strengthening oversight of states, and improving transparency and accountability, are long overdue. Passed in 1972, the CWA contains much of the authority needed to clean up water pollution from point sources and certain other sources, but strong enforcement is ...

EPA Steps Up to the Plate on Clean Water Act Enforcement. Congress Needs to Step Up, Too

by Robert Glicksman | October 15, 2009
Just about a month ago, the New York Times published a story in which it documented an alarming failure on the part of federal and state officials to enforce the principal federal law designed to protect the quality of the nation’s surface waters, including rivers, lakes, and streams. According to that story, fewer than three percent of identified violations of the Clean Water Act result in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. These violations have the potential to ...

EPA Announces CWA Enforcement Plan

by Ben Somberg | October 15, 2009
The EPA today released a 15-page Clean Water Act Enforcement Action Plan prepared by the agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Back in early July, Lisa Jackson had directed the enforcmeent office to develop a plan, and to "report back to me within 90 days with your recommendations." The EPA seems to be saying the plan released today is the final ("EPA Administrator Announces Plan to Retool and Reinvigorate Clean Water Enforcement Program.") The announcement came as the House ...

Holding Government and Emitters Accountable Under Boxer-Kerry

by Nina Mendelson | October 07, 2009
This post is the fifth in a series from CPR Member Scholars examining different aspects of the Boxer-Kerry bill on climate change, which was released September 30. To expand a bit on some of what Bill Buzbee discussed in his excellent analysis of the Boxer-Kerry bill on CPRBlog, it is critical to ensure that the implementation of a new climate change regime is done in a way that is prompt and efficient, but also accountable. An effective bill needs to ...

N.Y. Times Article on Water Pollution: A Timely Reminder of the Role of Enforcement

by William Andreen | September 15, 2009
Sunday’s New York Times article about the neglect of our clean water laws came as a timely reminder that, no matter how well articulated our environmental laws may be, it takes consistent, vigorous enforcement to ensure compliance with these statutory regimes. Unfortunately, as the article illustrates, state and federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act has languished during the past decade. Not only have governmental resources been inadequate, but all too often the will to enforce the law has been ...

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