CPR's Mintz Outlines Flaws of House Bill That Would Undercut SEPs

by James Goodwin

Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Joel Mintz submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law ahead of its hearing this morning on yet another ill-advised bill, the misleadingly named "Stop Settlement Funds Slush Funds Act of 2016." The bill would place arbitrary limits on how the federal government can use funds it obtains through settlement agreements that arise from enforcement actions brought against companies that have violated federal laws and the regulations that implement them. 

Mintz's testimony focuses on one particularly harmful effect this bill would have: its restrictions on the ability of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to include Supplemental Environmental Programs (SEPs) as part of the settlement agreements it reaches for violations of environmental laws like the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act. As he explains, the EPA's SEPs are "an immensely valuable environmental and public health protection program" and are used to "advance worthy and important goals, including (among others) protecting children's health, preventing pollution, securing the development of innovative pollution control technologies, and ensuring environmental justice." 

Mintz's testimony directly challenges the premise of the House Judiciary bill, which is that programs like SEPs are being abused. As he explains, the EPA has a rigorous process in place for implementing SEPs that prevents the imagined abuses dreamed up by the bill's sponsors. Because of this rigorous process, the EPA's SEPs have continued to "create 'win-win' scenarios for all parties involved, including regulators, regulated companies, and local communities." For example, SEPs have been included as part of settlement agreements arising from the BP oil spill, and the EPA will likely include them as part of its enforcement action against Volkswagen in response to the automaker's use of emissions "cheat" technology. 

Mintz's testimony describes some of the beneficial SEPs that would likely be blocked if the House Judiciary bill were to become law. These include "Pollution prevention projects that improve plant procedures and technologies, and/or operation and maintenance practices, that will prevent additional pollution at its source" and "Environmental restoration projects including activities that protect local ecosystems from actual or potential harm resulting from the violation." 

Mintz concludes his testimony by discussing how the House Judiciary bill improperly intrudes upon the federal government's ability to exercise its discretion to enforce the law "in a fair and effective manner." 

You can read Mintz's full testimony here.



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