EPA’s Latest Public-Private Partnership? Enforcement

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As the EPA budget continues to get squeezed by the ongoing sequester and a GOP-controlled House that is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to EPA’s mission, it is not surprising that EPA would try to shift more of the enforcement burden to citizen groups.  According to a report in Greenwire yesterday, that is precisely what EPA has in mind.

Greenwire quotes Cynthia Giles, EPA’s enforcement czar as saying that “we have far too much noncompliance, widespread noncompliance in some of the largest sectors.”  Noting budget problems, Greenwire states that “EPA is looking for new ways to catch violations as they occur.”  These include such ideas as pollution sensors in cars, cell phones, and even clothes.

Fortunately, it is not only the big, bad polluters who have some reservations about data proliferation.  Greenwire also quotes Bill Becker, of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, as cautioning that “not all of [the new tools] are the same….  Many of them are malfunctioning.”

On a more traditional note, EPA’s blog today announced that an updated version of its enforcement data base, ECHO, is now up and running, at least in a beta version.  I think many of us have had the experience of learning that EPA thinks that one of our clients has a compliance problem, not by being notified by EPA, but by seeing reference to noncompliance in ECHO.

In the short run, the ECHO upgrade is more significant than pollution-sniffing vests.  ECHO is a real resource for citizen groups and any entity that interacts regularly with EPA should be checking ECHO periodically.  I will say that the new site does appear easier to navigate than the old site.

In the long run, these two stories emphasize that Congress cannot prevent enforcement by starving EPA’s budget.  Absent statutory amendments restricting or eliminating citizen suits, doing so will just shift enforcement to citizen groups.

Be careful what you wish for.