Information on the Environmental Protection Agency's Enforcement Activities

CED-82-62: Published: Apr 1, 1982. Publicly Released: May 3, 1982.

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In response to congressional concern, GAO provided information pertaining to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hazardous waste enforcement activities. This information reviewed: (1) the change in EPA enforcement policy under the current Administration; (2) potential enforcement organizational problems; (3) problems in issuing enforcement guidance and policies to the regions; and (4) the elimination of federal funding for certain solid waste disposal activities authorized by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

GAO found that current EPA enforcement philosophy emphasizes voluntary compliance to environmental statutes and regulations and that legal action against violators is initiated only if voluntary compliance fails. Several environmental officials admitted that voluntary compliance is a viable approach but cautioned that, for it to be effective, EPA must maintain a visible and credible enforcement program. The organization of EPA enforcement policies has changed twice during the present Administration, and questions have been raised as to whether the new enforcement structure might not result in accountability and coordination problems. Further, EPA has been slow in developing an enforcement guidance policy. This often results in a need for regional attorneys to contact EPA headquarters for guidance on a case-by-case basis which causes confusion and makes these attorneys reluctant to take enforcement action. GAO stated that states generally lack adequate, long-term financial support to effectively and efficiently operate state solid waste programs and, despite EPA encouragement to explore alternative funding sources, few states have done so.

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