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    Subject Term: "Environmental law"

    4 publications with a total of 13 open recommendations including 4 priority recommendations
    Director: J. Alfredo Gomez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve future adherence to OMB guidance for conducting RIAs, the EPA Administrator should enhance the agency's review process for RIAs to ensure the transparency and clarity of information presented for selected elements in and across RIAs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of 2016 EPA had not enhanced these aspects of Regulatory Impact Analyses nor did it express that it planned to do so. GAO will continue to monitor any EPA progress on this recommendation and update its status accordingly.
    Recommendation: To clarify the relationship between OMB Circular A-4 and an Interagency Working Group's Technical Support document for estimating the effects of changes in carbon dioxide emissions, and the approach agencies should use when informing decision makers and the public of their findings, the Director of OMB should consider continuing monitoring the economic literature and working with agencies to identify approaches for presenting social cost of carbon estimates with other analytical results that have been discounted at different rates to help agencies more transparently communicate about the circumstances unique to assessing the long-term effects of changes in carbon dioxide emissions.

    Agency: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget
    Status: Open

    Comments: In a March 2016 update, OMB reported that the Interagency Working Group continues to monitor the economic literature and will also consider whether there are any new approaches for presenting social cost of carbon estimates with other analytical results that have been discounted at different rates that would help agencies more transparently communicate about the circumstances unique to assessing the long-term effects of changes in carbon dioxide emissions. It added that, as the National Academy of Sciences Committee may address the appropriate use of discount rates in calculating and presenting the social cost of carbon in Phase 2 of its report, it would be prudent to wait for Phase 2 of the report before making changes in this area to ensure that such changes are fully informed by any Committee recommendations. GAO will continue to monitor the Interagency Working Group's progress toward implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: In addition, to enhance the usefulness of EPA's RIAs, the EPA Administrator should identify and prioritize for research key categories of benefits and costs that the agency cannot currently monetize that, once monetized, would most enhance the agency's ability to consider economic trade-offs associated with different regulatory alternatives.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA is making progress in the spirit of this recommendation and GAO is keeping this recommendation open until we can determine how EPA is using the SAB's work to develop its regulatory impact analyses.
    Recommendation: To clarify the relationship between OMB Circular A-4 and an Interagency Working Group's Technical Support document for estimating the effects of changes in carbon dioxide emissions, and the approach agencies should use when informing decision makers and the public of their findings, the Director of OMB should consider clarifying the relationship between OMB Circular A-4 and the Technical Support Document by increasing the visibility of relevant language in the Technical Support Document.

    Agency: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget
    Status: Open

    Comments: In a March 2016 update, OMB said that in the Interagency Working Group's next update of the Technical Support Document, the Interagency Working Group will consider further clarification of the relationship between OMB Circular A-4 and the Technical Support Document through increasing the visibility of relevant language in the Technical Support Document. OMB did not specify the time frame for the next update. GAO will continue to monitor the Interagency Working Group's progress toward implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: In addition, to enhance the usefulness of EPA's RIAs, the EPA Administrator should continue efforts to update and improve the agency's approach to estimating employment effects.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA is making progress in the spirit of this recommendation and GAO is keeping the recommendation open until seeing the outcome of these efforts in the form of an updated Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    4 open recommendations
    including 3 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should develop and issue new regulations requiring that TMDLs include additional elements--and consider requiring the elements that are now optional--specifically, elements reflecting key features identified by NRC as necessary for attaining water quality standards, such as comprehensive identification of impairment and plans to monitor water bodies to verify that water quality is improving.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials stated that they agree that broad implementation and monitoring requirements would be helpful, but disagree that they should issue regulations. Officials stated that they continue to follow the state Water Quality Management Plan requirement related to GAO's recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should ensure more consistent application of existing TMDL elements and to provide greater assurance that TMDLs, if implemented, can achieve tangible water quality results, identify regional offices with criteria for interpreting and applying such elements in reviewing and approving state-developed TMDLs and issue guidance with more specificity, directing all regional offices to follow the same criteria, including requesting that states provide more-detailed information about pollution causes and abatement actions.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said they had created a small workgroup to assess this recommendation. The group is continuing discussions about how to enhance consistent regional review. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should place conditions on states' annual use of nonpoint source management and water pollution control grants to ensure that the funds meet the purposes for which they are awarded and achieve greater reductions in nonpoint source pollution associated with TMDL implementation, such as by targeting funds to states and projects that incorporate factors needed for effective TMDL implementation (e.g., targeting grant funds to projects where implementation plans have been developed and where external agency assistance is available).

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they believe the 2013 nonpoint source guidance substantially addresses this recommendation. Specifically, in April 2013, EPA issued revised guidance for awarding section 319 grants to states to implement nonpoint source management programs and projects. The guidance updates previous guidance to EPA regional offices and states in four key areas: (1) state nonpoint source management program plans, (2) funding distribution, (3) reviews of states' watershed-based plans, and (4) regional offices' annual progress determinations. While this encourages states to target nonpoint source funding to watersheds with TMDLs, it does not incentivize it with funding. EPA continues to discuss approaches to address this recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor the recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should obtain missing data that currently impede EPA's efforts to determine whether and to what extent TMDLs have been implemented or to what extent implemented TMDLs have helped impaired waters attain water quality standards by (1) directing states to use and report specific Geographic Information Systems data when implementing projects to which TMDLs apply and (2) requesting that USDA ask landowners who participate in conservation programs funded by the department in areas subject to a TMDL to disclose information on the location, type, and number of projects implemented under these programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they have created the Water Quality Framework to align and integrate the variety of water quality data in different systems. The first phase focuses on improvements to ATTAINS, the TMDL tracking system, to report on the status of healthy waters and restoring and improving impaired waters. EPA officials said that they have transitioned to the use of NHDPlus catchments to report on performance measures, allowing EPA to automate the calculation of data. In addition, in June 2016, EPA requested USDA to provide data on the location, type, and number of projects implemented by USDA programs. USDA has not provided the data. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-9338

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should resume data verification audits to routinely evaluate the quality of selected drinking water data on health-based and monitoring violations that the states provide to EPA. These audits should also evaluate the quality of data on the enforcement actions that states and other primacy agencies have taken to correct violations.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In October 2016, EPA reported that it had not resumed its data verification audits, but is continuing on-site file reviews, completing 5 in 2015, and planning to complete 8 in 2016. Further, EPA continues to focus on developing its SDWIS Prime, which will support electronic verification of data. It plans to have the system operational in March 2018. In the last year, EPA conducted two training events with the regional file review teams which the agency indicated helped (1) identify challenges in completing file reviews and potential solutions, and (2) share best practices to enhance the implementation of the protocol. EPA told us that as the regions build more capacity and experience in conducting these file reviews, EPA expects to gradually increase the number of file reviews completed in a year. According to OECA, who collaborates with the water office for file reviews in some regions, there were no systemic discrepancies between enforcement file contents and data reported to EPA in its test of the protocol for evaluating the quality of enforcement data in 3 states.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should work with the states to establish a goal, or goals, for the completeness and accuracy of data on monitoring violations. In setting these goals, EPA may want to consider whether certain types of monitoring violations merit specific targets. For example, the agency may decide that a goal for the states to completely and accurately report when required monitoring was not done should differ from a goal for reporting when monitoring was done but not reported on time.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to EPA, it has not worked with states to establish a national goal for the quality of monitoring violations. EPA stated that without the ability to conduct on-site data verifications using a statistically-based sample size, it is unable to derive a goal that would capture both completeness of state reporting to EPA and whether the states correctly assigned a violation for missed monitoring. EPA said that it intends to work with states to evaluate the establishment of a monitoring data quality goal once the new SDWIS NextGen data system has been developed and electronic data verification functions are incorporated into the system. In April 2015, EPA indicated that the agency intends to separate monitoring violations from reporting violations in the new SDWIS Primacy Agency data system. According to EPA, this will enable the primacy agencies and EPA to better understand the nature of system violations and with the violations delineated in this manner, will allow EPA to consider developing goals for monitoring and reporting violations. In September 2015, EPA reported to GAO that it anticipated that states will begin using SDWIS Prime in September 2017 and that it will consider GAO's recommendation once SDWIS Prime is fully operational and it is able to better establish such a goal.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should consider whether EPA's performance measures for community water systems could be constructed to more clearly communicate the aggregate public health risk posed by these systems' noncompliance with SDWA and progress in having those systems return to compliance in a timely manner.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to EPA, the agency has not made any adjustments to the performance measures for community water systems. EPA told us that, as part of its periodic review of the 5-year Strategic Plan, it will consult with the states, the Office of Management and Budget, GAO and the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee (NDWAC) on how it could construct a new measure to communicate better the aggregate public health risk posed by noncompliance as GAO suggests. EPA also said that it will continue to use a variety of tools and resources to convey to the public information on drinking water quality and potential health risks associated with exposure to contaminants. In April 2015, EPA wrote: OGWDW did not make any changes in Fiscal Year 2014 to the program's current community water system-based measure which communicates the results of efforts to return systems to compliance and maintain compliance. The "person month" measure provides insight into the duration of health based violations. For FY 15, we have developed a "person month" measure for tribal community water systems. Further efforts to evaluate the current measures and consideration of GAO suggestions will continue to be part of the Agency's periodic review of the five-year strategic plan. In September 2015, EPA told GAO that it was evaluating the effectiveness of the "person month" measure and is continuing to enhance and revise the measures taking GAO suggestions into consideration.
    Director: Stephenson, John B
    Phone: (202)512-6225

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Because EPA alone cannot address the complexities of the nation's challenges in addressing environmental health risks for children, Congress may wish to consider re-establishing a government-wide task force on children's environmental health risks, similar to the one previously established by Executive Order 13045 and co-chaired by the Administrator of EPA and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Congress may wish to consider charging it with identifying the principal environmental health threats to children and developing national strategies for addressing them. Congress may also wish to consider establishing in law the Executive Order's requirement for periodic reports about federal research findings and research needs regarding children's environmental health.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, we have not identified actions by the Congress to establish in law requirements such as those in EO 13025.