WASHINGTON - An internal Environmental Protection Agency study concluded that the states are doing a poor job of monitoring and punishing water polluters, even as the Bush administration plans to turn more pollution enforcement over to the states.
"Not taking prompt enforcement action increases water pollution as violations go unchecked," the EPA's inspector general found. The 100-page report on state enforcement of water pollution laws in 1998 and 1999 was posted on the EPA's Web site yesterday. At best, the way states punish water polluters is "marginally effective," the report concluded.
The report, coupled with a July study by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigatory arm, on proposed EPA job cuts and a Senate delay on President Bush's choice to be head of EPA's enforcement, is fueling opposition to the Bush administration's plan to deal with polluters. The administration intends to cut $25 million and 270 jobs from the EPA's pollution-enforcement efforts and shift the money to states to help them enforce air, water and waste laws.
At the heart of the argument is a debate over the most effective way to curb pollution.
States are more willing to solve pollution problems by working with companies rather than suing them, argued Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president for environment and energy policy.
But environmentalists and many Democrats allege that the Bush administration favors industry over the environment and argue that turning enforcement over to the states allows big companies to play one state against another, especially in a weak economy.
"These reports are just the latest indictment of this polluter-coddling approach," said Mike Casey, vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington activist organization.
The EPA's inspector general found that states did not report serious toxic water-pollution violations to the federal government as required, lacked data for hundreds of thousands of small polluters, and let 25 percent of major polluters' water-discharge permits expire without noticing. The report began under the Clinton administration last year and was completed Aug. 14.
When states did punish large water-pollution violations, "these actions were often taken a year or more after the violation occurred," the inspector general's report found. "Further penalties were sometimes insufficient to prevent further violations and were not always collected. This may have contributed to a large number of recurring violations."
For example, Louisiana did not collect $441,188 in pollution penalties it levied in 1998 and 1999, and California failed to collect some stormwater-runoff penalties.
More than half the monitored factories in 28 states had significant water-pollution violations in 1999 and again in 2000, the report found.
The report is at www.epa.gov/oigearth/audit/list901/finalenfor.pdf