Enforcement cutbacks included in EPA's proposed strategic plan

Dec 2, 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2014-18 draft strategic plan, including in it some cutbacks that may have environmentalists lining up for their enforcement duties.

The plan includes turning some of the enforcement divisions over to the states and municipalities, along with, according to some reports, relying more on nonprofit environmental groups to act as watchdogs, which may not bode well for agriculture.

As part of EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment, the draft strategic plan has five strategic goals:

• Address climate change and improve air quality;

• Protect America’s waters;

• Clean up communities and advance sustainable development;

• Ensure safety of chemicals and prevent pollution; and

• Protect human health and the environment by enforcing laws and assuring compliance.

The draft plan also lists EPA’s core values as science, transparency and rule of law. The plan focuses on “developing and using creative, flexible, cost-effective and sustainable actions that deliver significant benefits on the ground in protecting and improving human health and the environment.”

On a good note, EPA has just 70,000 federal inspections in its proposed plan for the next five years, down considerably from the 21,000 per year it has conducted in 2005 through 2009, and 20,000 in 2012. EPA legal battles are also reduced in the plan, down by over 700 per year, from the 2012 fiscal year.

Forced clean-ups also will be reduced. By 2018, EPA wants commitments to clean up 905 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and groundwater media resulting from corrective enforcement actions. The annual average over the period of fiscal 2007 through 2009 was 300 million cubic yards, and in 2012 was 400 million cubic yards.

But the more than 30,000 fewer inspections, 10,000 fewer lawsuits and 22 billion fewer pounds of hazardous waste cleanup has environmentalists critiquing the plan.

According to an article in Law360, lawyer Raymond B. Ludwiszewski, a former EPA Assistant Administrator, claims nonprofits and environmental regulators at the state and local level will have a hard time filling in for federal officials in most cases, as they lack the easy access to courts and the financial resources that have benefited the EPA.

“It is a far cry from the promise that Lisa Jackson and President Obama made at the start of the term that the nation’s environmental cop is back on its beat,” Ludwiszewski shared with Law360.

Another key area in the plan includes a plan to “Minimize the threats posed by climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions…” While some areas may be seeing some reductions, the plan includes beefing up truck emissions standards.

EPA plans to implement greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for medium and heavyduty trucks and buses (model years 2014-2018). The agency also promises to build on the first phase of heavy-duty vehicle GHG standards by developing options for a second phase of GHG emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

The proposals may include “exploring a more complete vehicle standard-setting approach” and encouraging the development of a broader range of advanced technologies. EPA is still considering whether to include truck trailers as part of the second phase. Much of EPA’s FY 2014-2018 plan falls in line with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for GHG emission levels to be reduced 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The draft plan will also focus on mobile off-road sources as part of the effort to address climate change. The agency will assess current GHG control options for off-road sources and determine if and when to begin developing GHG emissions standards for offroad sources, such as marine vessels, aircrafts, trains and transportation fuels.

EPA announced the availability of the Draft FY 2014- 2018 EPA Strategic Plan for public review and comment, as part of the periodic update required by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010. The comment period ends Jan. 3, 2014 The agency anticipates the final Strategic Plan will be submitted to Congress in February, 2014. The Strategic Plan provides the Agency’s long-term direction and strategies for advancing human health and the environment.

EPA is particularly interested in feedback addressing strategies contained in the goal narratives, cross-cutting fundamental strategies, and strategic measures. The agency made targeted revisions to its existing plan that seek to advance efforts to address the changing climate, protect water and land resources and advance chemical safety. According to EPA, the plan seeks to outline how EPA will make a visible difference in communities across the country by advancing sustainability, innovation and providing sound scientific advice, technical and compliance assistance and other tools that support states, tribes, cities, towns, rural communities and the private sector. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor