Air Pollution:

EPA's Strategy and Resources May Be Inadequate to Control Air Toxics

RCED-91-143: Published: Jun 26, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to implement the new toxic air pollution requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, focusing on EPA actions to: (1) develop a strategic plan for carrying out the requirements; and (2) obtain sufficient resources to meet its regulatory responsibilities within the set time frames.

GAO found that: (1) if properly implemented, the new regulatory process provided for in the act should substantially reduce air toxics emissions; (2) EPA has not requested sufficient funding to carry out the air toxics provisions within the mandated time frames; (3) the act calls for major sources of air toxics to install control equipment or change manufacturing processes sufficiently to reduce toxic emissions to levels at least as stringent as the levels already achieved by best-performing facilities; (4) not later than 8 years after establishing phase one standards, EPA must implement phase two to assess the remaining health and environmental risks and, if warranted, impose further controls to reduce emissions to safe levels; (5) EPA plans to propose better initial regulations by consulting with external organizations and streamline its in-house review and approval processes by relying on less data before promulgating standards; (6) the use of generic measurement methods for as many as 144 of the 189 air toxics specified by the act may result in air toxics permits that are difficult to enforce in court; (7) the extensive use of maximum achievable control technology (MACT) categories and subcategories may define the groups so narrowly that the resulting standards will only validate the status quo and not result in any meaningful reductions in toxic emissions; (8) EPA failure to address cost and energy implications may adversely impact EPA efforts to hold meaningful consultations with industry and environmental groups and hamper EPA staff in implementing the act's objectives; (9) the strategic plan lacked sufficient details on the data needed and the actions, activities, tasks, and definitions of key terms and concepts necessary to ensure the agency's success in achieving the act's air toxics objectives; and (10) underfunding may significantly affect public health, since EPA scientists expect that 25 to 40 percent of sources will present significant risks of serious disease even after MACT standards are in place.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the November 12, 1991 hearing, and GAO testimony (GAO/T-RCED-92-11), EPA prepared a revised strategic plan for meeting Clean Air Act air toxic requirements.

    Recommendation: To help ensure successful implementation of air toxics mandates in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the Administrator, EPA, should revise the EPA strategy for the timely accomplishment of the act's air toxics objectives to include all actions, activities, and tasks mandated or reasonably believed to be necessary to carry out the air toxics objectives of the act.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the November 12, 1991 hearing and GAO testimony (GAO/T-RCED-92-11), EPA has requested substantial increases in fiscal year 1993 funding for its air toxic program.

    Recommendation: To reasonably ensure successful implementation of air toxics mandates in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the Administrator, EPA, should submit appropriation requests to Congress for the funds necessary to fully implement the air toxics provisions within the act's mandated time frames. To facilitate decisionmaking, especially during periods of fiscal austerity, the Administrator, EPA, should present Congress with several scenarios depicting envisioned EPA progress at various funding levels.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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