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Federal environmental enforcement, as measured by Environmental Protection Agency civil cases closed against polluters, hit a two-decade low in 2022, according to a report released last week by a national environmental group that blames budget cuts, the staff shortages and the lack of confirmation from the US Senate of key leaders.
The Environmental Integrity Project said the 72 civil enforcement cases closed in the courts during the fiscal year that ended in September under President Biden’s administration was the “lowest number in at least 22 years.”
The Trump administration’s EPA closed an average of 94 cases per year, while the Obama administration averaged 210 per year, The report He says.
“The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency was expected to step up enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws after investigation and prosecution of polluters hit new lows under the Trump administration. the group said in a statement. “He has yet to deliver on that promise, thanks to Congress’s refusal to reverse more than a decade of budget cuts or confirm President Biden’s nominee to head EPA’s Office of Compliance and Compliance Assurance.”
The number of people working in EPA’s civil enforcement program dropped from 3,294 in 2012 to 2,253 in 2022. There were 189 EPA criminal law enforcement agents in 2012, but that number dropped to 155 by 2022 says the report.
“EPA’s professional staff seem to be doing the best they can with increasingly limited resources,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former EPA civil compliance director. “But they are not helped by ruthless budget cuts and the Senate’s inability to confirm President Biden’s pick for EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement Assistant Administrator David Uhlmann.”
Uhlmann, former chief of the environmental crimes section of the US Department of Justice and director of the environmental law program at the University of Michigan, was nominated in June 2021 for the position, but saw his confirmation vote stall.
“The former president’s hostility toward the EPA and environmental enforcement in particular is well known,” Schaeffer said. “But the Democrats have controlled the House of Representatives for the last four years and the Senate for the last two. At this point, Congress’s refusal to support enforcement of the environmental laws he enacted is a bipartisan issue.”
US Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) retainers placed on Biden’s nominees on a dispute with the EPA over Louisiana’s request to permit, locate, and monitor carbon sequestration wells. (a warehouse is an informal practice in which a senator informs Senate leaders who oppose a plenary vote on a nomination or measure).
“Senator Cassidy has no control over any of the EPA nominees because none of those who have been considered in the committee have been brought to the full Senate for a final vote,” a spokesman for the senator said Wednesday. “The senator does not plan to retain Uhlmann should he be brought to the full Senate, however, the senator does plan to retain other nominees. … EPA continues to block state government’s ability to reduce emissions through CO2 capture and storage, which is a vital step to preserve existing jobs and strengthen Louisiana’s economy.”
In the meantime, however, enforcement at hundreds of facilities with significant air and water pollution violations is languishing, the report contends.
“EPA enforcement records show at least 257 major sources of air pollution with high-priority violations that have persisted for more than 30 months without any real enforcement response,” the Environmental Integrity Project said. “Similarly, discharge monitoring reports show that more than 900 facilities have violated water contamination limits at least 50 times in the last three years, but did not face any significant enforcement action.”
EPA general budget it was nearly $9.5 billion in 2012, with a workforce of 17,106. For the fiscal year that ended in September, it had a budget of nearly $9.6 billion and 14,581 employees.
According to the EPA, the budget for the Office of Compliance and Compliance Assurance was $593 million in 2011, falling to $539 million in 2022.
“EPA is proud of its compliance work accomplished in FY 22, especially considering the resource constraints the agency continues to face as a result of a decade of shrinking compliance budgets,” said EPA spokesperson Melissa Sullivan. In an executive order in 2021Biden directed the EPA to strengthen enforcement of violations “with a disproportionate impact on underserved communities.”
“Our targeted enforcement work in overburdened and vulnerable communities has increased significantly in recent years and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to holding polluters accountable,” Sullivan said. “President Biden’s budget calls for a significant increase in enforcement resources that would help reverse the decline in compliance numbers that has occurred over the past decade.”
In it budget for the fiscal year ending in September 2023, the Biden administration sought a total EPA budget of nearly $11.9 billion, roughly 1,900 new full-time employees and an additional $213 million for civil enforcement efforts.
Congress is currently finalizing appropriations legislation that includes a EPA budget of $10.1 billion, less than what Biden was seeking, but still a $576 million increase. Includes an additional $71.6 million for enforcement and compliance.
“We are pleased to see Congress increasing EPA’s compliance budget in its 2023 omnibus spending bill, and we call on our leaders to take immediate action to further improve environmental compliance by confirming David Uhlmann as head of the EPA’s compliance and enforcement office as soon as possible. possible,” said Patrick Drupp, deputy legislative director for the Sierra Club.