Hazardous Waste:

Many Enforcement Actions Do Not Meet EPA Standards

RCED-88-140: Published: Jun 8, 1988. Publicly Released: Jun 21, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' progress in implementing the EPA enforcement response policy under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), focusing on: (1) the extent to which EPA and authorized states took timely and appropriate enforcement actions against high-priority violators; (2) EPA oversight of the appropriateness of state enforcement actions; (3) whether EPA criteria for enforcement action produce sufficient and uniform enforcement across EPA regions and the states; and (4) whether EPA and states followed up on enforcement actions to ensure that handlers corrected violations.

GAO found that: (1) states met both the timeliness and appropriateness criteria in 19 of 208 high-priority cases and in 254 of 471 other cases; (2) EPA regions met the criteria in 17 of 97 high-priority cases and 23 of 60 other cases; (3) limited resources, lack of state environmental agency penalty authority, and legal problems that affected EPA enforcement authority resulted in poor performance; (4) EPA did not take enforcement action in any cases where states did not meet enforcement criteria; and (5) the criteria that the regions used for reporting their enforcement performances were inconsistent with the enforcement policy's timeliness and appropriateness measures. GAO also found that EPA actions to improve its and states' performance in meeting enforcement criteria included: (1) codifying state regulations so that EPA could enforce them; (2) proposing a rule that required states to have administrative-order and penalty authority; and (3) issuing guidance documents that outlined enforcement options against federal violators and adopted time frames for escalating unresolved disputes between EPA regions and other federal agencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The EPA 1990 penalty policy requires regions to document penalties, and it has urged states to adopt its 1990 policy, including documentation. EPA does not consider documentation of enforcement and followup to be a problem warranting action, and plans no further action.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require that the regions and states fully and clearly document their enforcement activities with specific emphasis on penalty calculations and compliance follow-up activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed, but believes such changes to the EPA enforcement response policy should be considered when EPA decides to make comprehensive changes to its response policy, which is not expected at this time.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should clarify the Enforcement Response Policy to include time frames for states to take enforcement actions on cases referred to them from EPA regions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In connection with the EPA revised 1990 penalty policy, EPA has issued a memo urging states to adopt the new policy. However, because state penalty laws vary, EPA has not made the policy mandatory.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require authorized states to adopt penalty policies that consider the full economic benefit of noncompliance consistent with the RCRA Civil Penalty Policy.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The EPA Strategic Targeted Activities for Results System has been revised to require consistency with its timeliness and appropriateness enforcement requirements. However, EPA does not believe an accountability system is warranted.

    Recommendation: In order for EPA headquarters to closely monitor regional and state performance in meeting timely and appropriate criteria, the Administrator, EPA, should direct that the EPA Strategic Planning and Management System be revised to incorporate enforcement performance reporting requirements that are consistent with the timeliness and appropriateness criteria in the Enforcement Response Policy and hold regions accountable for meeting these criteria.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under the EPA Strategic Targeted Activities for Results System, regional offices are now required to report unaddressed, high-priority violations and take informal actions against additional facilities. However, EPA does not believe that establishing an accountability system is warranted.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the regions to take steps to ensure that they meet the timeliness and appropriateness criteria for enforcement actions that they take in order to set an example for the states to follow in implementing the Enforcement Response Policy and hold the regions accountable for meeting these criteria.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes its regional offices have an active and effective process to monitor state enforcement actions, and that further action is not warranted at this time.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA and state performance in implementing the EPA Enforcement Response Policy, and also to ensure an equitable and consistent application of RCRA enforcement actions nationwide, the Administrator, EPA, should reinforce to the regions their responsibility to monitor state enforcement actions and to take direct enforcement action against hazardous waste handlers when states fail to do so in a timely and appropriate manner. Reinforcement of this requirement should, as a minimum, be reflected in annual headquarters RCRA program implementation guidance to the regions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation, in a broader context, has been reemphasized in GAO/RCED-88-115, and hopefully will be discussed during the RCRA reauthorization process.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should determine the resource needs of the enforcement program, and, if resources are insufficient, provide such information to the appropriate congressional committee for their consideration.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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