Environmental Enforcement: EPA Needs to Improve the Accuracy and Transparency of Measures Used to Report on Program Effectiveness

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Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "As part of its mission to protect human health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) enforcement office maintains civil and criminal enforcement programs to help enforce the requirements of major federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. EPA's civil and criminal enforcement programs work with the Department of Justice (DOJ), and in some cases states, to take legal actions to bring polluters into compliance with federal laws. While civil enforcement actions require polluters to pay penalties and take other ... continued below

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United States. Government Accountability Office. September 18, 2008.

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Description

Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "As part of its mission to protect human health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) enforcement office maintains civil and criminal enforcement programs to help enforce the requirements of major federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. EPA's civil and criminal enforcement programs work with the Department of Justice (DOJ), and in some cases states, to take legal actions to bring polluters into compliance with federal laws. While civil enforcement actions require polluters to pay penalties and take other corrective actions, criminal enforcement actions also may include imprisonment. EPA's enforcement office sets national priorities to focus resources on significant environmental risks and non-compliance patterns; prepares nationally significant civil and criminal cases for legal action by DOJ; uses 10 regional offices to implement civil enforcement actions on a day-to-day basis; and pursues criminal violations of environmental laws through its criminal enforcement office. The agency exercises its authority to independently pursue some violators through administrative proceedings--civil administrative actions--and to refer significant matters to DOJ when it believes cases need to be filed in federal court as civil judicial actions. DOJ is responsible for prosecuting and settling civil judicial and criminal enforcement cases. EPA relies on a variety of measures to assess and report on the effectiveness of its civil and criminal enforcement programs. For example, EPA relies on assessed penalties that result from enforcement efforts among its long-standing measurable accomplishments. The agency uses its discretion to estimate the appropriate penalty amount based on individual case circumstances. EPA has developed penalty policies as guidance for determining appropriate penalties in civil administrative cases and referring civil judicial cases. The policies are based on environmental statutes and have an important goal of deterring potential polluters from violating environmental laws and regulations. The purpose of EPA's penalties is to eliminate the economic benefit a violator gained from noncompliance and to reflect the gravity of the alleged harm to the environment or public health. Like other federal agencies, EPA has established results-oriented goals and performance measures. Two of the major performance measures for civil enforcement, according to EPA, are (1) the value of injunctive relief--the monetary value of future investments necessary for an alleged violator to come into compliance, and (2) pollution reduction--the pounds of pollution to be reduced, treated, or eliminated as a result of an enforcement action. EPA told us these two measures, as well as penalties, should be considered when assessing the overall impact of its enforcement actions. EPA relies on these measures, among others, in pursuing its national enforcement priorities and overall strategy of fewer, but higher impact, cases. Unless these measures are meaningful, Congress and the public will not be able to determine the effectiveness of the programs. Therefore, it is important to understand how they are determined and the extent to which they accurately reflect EPA's accomplishments. In this context, we agreed to report on (1) amounts of civil and criminal penalties assessed in recent years and how EPA calculates and reports on these outcomes, (2) the value of injunctive relief and amounts of pollution reduction and how EPA calculates and reports on these outcomes, and (3) factors that influence EPA's process in achieving enforcement outcomes. This report recommends steps that EPA should take to improve the transparency and accuracy of its reports to Congress and the public when reporting on the effectiveness of its enforcement programs."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • September 18, 2008

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. Government Accountability Office. Environmental Enforcement: EPA Needs to Improve the Accuracy and Transparency of Measures Used to Report on Program Effectiveness, text, September 18, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc299194/: accessed December 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.