Washington, DC..Buried in the fine print of President George W. Bush’s budget plan for the next fiscal year are significant cuts in the number of inspections, investigations and enforcement actions that could be undertaken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to administration records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Compared with the current fiscal year, the Bush proposed EPA budget would reduce–
* inspections of facilities by 12 percent;
* criminal investigations by 11 percent; and
* civil investigations by 20 percent — contributing to a nearly 70 percent drop in civil cases since the 2000 fiscal year.
Bush’s plan offers a dual justification for the cuts: 1) by focusing on higher priority areas, fewer enforcement actions would be needed; and 2) shifting greater enforcement authority to the states (embodied in a redirection of $25 million of EPA’s operating budget to the states) lessens the need for federal involvement.
“Bush’s environmental enforcement plan is a shell game,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents both EPA and state enforcement professionals. “Cutting inspections makes it harder to track compliance, thus impeding targeted enforcement. At the same time, Bush is also slashing the very scientific staff needed to identify what the priority public health needs are.”
With respect to the shift of enforcement authority to the states, the Bush plan admits several times that a series of EPA Inspector General reports in 1997 and 1998 found grave problems with the inability of states to identify or prosecute significant environmental violators.
“Despite admitting serious weaknesses with state enforcement efforts, the Bush plan cuts nearly 200 employees from EPA whose jobs are to assure accountability for the federal dollars spent by the states,” Ruch added. “Bush’s plan allows states to attract industry by pursuing a race to the bottom of environmental protection.”