Environmental Protection:

EPA's and States' Efforts to Focus State Enforcement Programs on Results

T-RCED-98-233: Published: Jun 23, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 1998.

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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' efforts to focus state environmental enforcement programs on results, focusing on: (1) what alternative compliance strategies states are practicing; (2) whether and how states are measuring the effectiveness of these strategies; and (3) how EPA has responded to these states' efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) approaches used by 10 states GAO contacted that are experimenting with alternative compliance strategies generally fall into two categories: (a) compliance assistance programs that seek to help dischargers comply with environmental requirements; and (b) programs that promote more flexible enforcement than is practiced under the current system; (2) these programs generally target smaller facilities or businesses that may not understand the requirements and the most efficient and effective ways of meeting them; (3) among the key flexible enforcement approaches employed were audit privilege/immunity policies or laws, which generally encourage facilities to use environmental auditing to assess their environmental performance and correct the problems identified; (4) nine of the 10 states had some type of audit privilege/immunity program, four of which were authorized by the states' statutes; (5) GAO found broad agreement among the state and EPA officials GAO contacted that the effectiveness of alternative compliance strategies should be measured and addressed; (6) yet while GAO identified a number of innovative efforts under way, states' efforts to measure the effectiveness of alternative compliance strategies have proven to be much more difficult than counting and reporting traditional enforcement outputs; (7) EPA has initiated a number of activities to improve compliance using nontraditional approaches, such as establishing compliance assistance centers, rewarding voluntary self-disclosure of environmental violations, and working jointly with states to develop results-oriented performance measures; (8) these programs have complemented and facilitated states' efforts, but the agency has also maintained a continued emphasis on strong enforcement, noting that the deterrent effect achieved through enforcement actions motivates regulated entities to seek compliance assistance and use incentive policies; (9) some of the differences between EPA and state regulatory authorities over state intiatives reflect different legal and policy views; and (10) GAO found, however, that these differences were exacerbated by inconsistent approaches by different EPA offices on how the adequacy of state enforcement programs should be assessed--particularly as it relates to the appropriate balance in states' use of traditional and non-traditional tools for achieving compliance.

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