EPA's Penalties May Not Recover Economic Benefits Gained by Violators

T-RCED-91-69: Published: Jun 19, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 1991.

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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) penalty policies and practices. GAO found that: (1) despite an EPA commitment to inflict penalties on violators and recent increases in total penalties, penalty amounts showed little relationship to the economic benefit of the violations; (2) the lack of documentation in 65 percent of the cases reviewed made it difficult to determine the actual amount EPA should have collected; (3) state and local authorities did not regularly recover the value of economic benefits in penalties, allowing for the occurrence of repeated violations; (4) such factors as limited budgetary resources, program targets for settled cases, and concerns about jeopardizing relations with local business deterred regulatory officials from following EPA penalty policies and recovering economic benefit; (5) EPA did not have sufficient information to adequately oversee regional office practices, and the organizational responsibilities were diffuse, with 15 offices responsible for either setting or carrying out enforcement policies; and (6) EPA oversight of state penalty practices was limited, since it did not require states to adopt its own civil penalty policy.

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