Last month, I noted that shrinking EPA budgets would lead to greater focus on citizen enforcement. This week, an article in Law360 concerning EPA’s draft 2014-2018 strategic plan has driven that message home. While talking about increased use of technology to monitor compliance more efficiently – all well and good and certainly for real – the strategic plan acknowledges a likely significant decrease in the number of enforcement actions to be brought by EPA. We’re talking an almost 50% decrease.
Now, I’ve long been an advocate of focusing on outcomes. More enforcement doesn’t necessarily mean a cleaner environment. Lower emissions mean a cleaner environment. If that can happen with zero enforcement, I’d hope we’d all cheer. However, we’re not quite in that halcyon situation.
What’s going to be the result of the combination of more transparent electronic reporting and fewer EPA enforcement resources? I’d put my money on more citizen enforcement. Given a choice between dealing with EPA and DOJ counsel or counsel for an NGO bringing a citizen suit, I know which I’d choose. Of course, the GOP in Congress appears to have the votes to continue to starve EPA’s budget, but they don’t have the votes to amend environmental laws to cut back on citizen suit provisions.
Voila, a result with which no one is happy.