Water Pollution:

More Emphasis Needed on Prevention in EPA's Efforts to Protect Groundwater

RCED-92-47: Published: Dec 30, 1991. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to prevent groundwater contamination, focusing on: (1) its emphasis on contamination prevention activities; and (2) major barriers inhibiting implementation of a preventive approach.

GAO found that: (1) the groundwater contamination prevention strategy EPA designed in 1984 has made limited progress due to ineffective agency coordination of policies and programs, ineffective management and accountability systems, and priorities and resource allocations that favored remediation rather than prevention; (2) states maintained that EPA provided inadequate grant assistance and technical guidance for their efforts to prevent and clean up contamination; (3) EPA finalized a new strategy in July 1991 and is taking steps to establish mechanisms to improve program coordination and policy integration, improve management and accountability systems, improve annual groundwater activity planning and evaluation, and collect additional state groundwater data; (4) the new strategy more clearly defines EPA policy and places more emphasis on prevention activities and a comprehensive approach for managing groundwater resources; (5) the continued heavy orientation of available funds on remedial rather than preventive activities and the generally limited availability of resources will continue to limit progress in implementing the strategy; (6) while the new strategy includes initiatives for increasing financial and technical assistance for states, it is unlikely that EPA will be able to provide all of the needed assistance; and (7) EPA may be able to obtain further financial assistance for preventive activities by shifting groundwater-related grants initially intended for remedial activities to preventive activities.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the 1993 session, Congress held several hearings which stressed the need for a greater emphasis on the prevention of groundwater contamination. EPA's 1993 budget provided a Clean Water Act section 106 set-aside to help states develop comprehensive plans to emphasize the prevention of groundwater contamination. We will continue to track congressional action on this recommendation. While a step in the right direction, the funding provided is not sufficient to help states develop and implement comprehensive plans.

    Matter: Because of the heavy emphasis of EPA resources devoted to remediation activities and the need to shift groundwater-related resources toward prevention activities, Congress may wish to consider providing greater emphasis on preventive groundwater-related activities as it considers funding for EPA groundwater-related programs during the 1993 budget process.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA issued a new Groundwater Strategy which emphasizes the need to prevent groundwater contamination. EPA's 1993 budget included a set-aside to develop and implement Comprehensive State Groundwater Protection plans. EPA issued guidance on how groundwater related grants can be restricted to prevent contamination.

    Recommendation: To promote an improved balance between prevention and remediation in state groundwater-related programs, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the states to develop ways in which some of their existing groundwater-related grant programs can be reoriented to provide greater emphasis on preventive activities. Where congressional approval is needed, EPA should work with the cognizant authorizing and appropriations committees in the 1993 budget process to reorient funding priorities to provide greater emphasis on preventive activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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