Great Lakes:

EPA Needs to Define Organizational Responsibilities Better for Effective Oversight and Cleanup of Contaminated Areas

GAO-02-563: Published: May 17, 2002. Publicly Released: May 21, 2002.

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To protect the Great Lakes and to address common water quality problems, the United States and Canada entered into the bilateral Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. The agreement has been amended several times, most recently in 1987. That year, the two countries agreed to cooperate with state and provincial governments to develop and implement remedial action plans (RAPs) for designated areas in the Great Lakes Basin--areas contaminated, for example, by toxic substances. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads the effort to meet the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which include RAP development and implementation. As of April 2002, all of the 26 contaminated areas in the Great Lakes Basin that the United States is responsible for have completed the first stage of the RAP process; however, only half have completed the second stage. Even though EPA has been charged with leading the effort to meet the goals of the agreement, it has not clearly delineated responsibility for oversight of RAPs within the agency, and, citing resource constraints and the need to tend to other Great Lakes priorities, reduced its staff and the amount of funding allocated to states for the purpose of RAP development and implementation.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help EPA more effectively oversee the RAP process and meet the United States' commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the EPA administrator should clarify which office within EPA is responsible for ensuring RAP implementation.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to this recommendation, EPA stated in August 2003, that it had undertaken a systematic approach to improve delivery of its Remedial Action Program. EPA's management and funding for the program has changed with responsibility for the program now residing in the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO). To fulfill these responsibilities, additional staff resources were provided to GLNPO and confirmed its support for two other EPA regional offices to implement the program.

    Recommendation: To help EPA more effectively oversee the RAP process and meet the United States' commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the EPA administrator should identify the actions, time periods, and resources needed to help EPA fulfill its RAP oversight responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, EPA stated in August 2003, that it is producing a report that will address the actions, time periods, and resources needed to help the agency fulfill its responsibilities by November 2003. EPA stated that similar information was mandated by the Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002 (PL 107-303), and would provide information to Congress in a single report.

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