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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: In May 2017, EPA reported that it is committing to have its National Center for Environmental Economics in the Office of Policy review regulatory impact analyses (RIAs) for economically significant rules and provide a written review prior to their submission to OMB, indicating progress toward implementing this recommendation. GAO is keeping this recommendation open until seeing how EPA implements this commitment, including any written documentation or guidance to support this process and the type of criteria the agency plans to use for these reviews to ensure the transparency and clarity of information presented for selected elements in and across EPA's RIAs.
    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: As of May 2017, EPA said that it continues to make progress in the spirit of this recommendation, including its consideration of the Science Advisory Board's (SAB) April 2017 draft report and research recommendations regarding the use of economy-wide modeling in benefit-cost analysis for environmental regulations. GAO is keeping this recommendation open until it is clearer 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: As of May 2017, EPA reported that it continues to make progress in the spirit of this recommendation, with plans to implement a three-part program dealing with employment impacts. EPA also plans to review its Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analysis to expand and update the discussion of how to consider employment effects in RIAs. GAO is keeping this recommendation open until seeing the outcome of these planned efforts.
    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: As of May 2017, EPA reported that it had not resumed its data verification audits due to budgetary constraints, but was continuing on-site file reviews to support efficient and effective state programs. EPA completed 5 file reviews in 2015, 7 in 2016, and was planning to complete 10 in 2017. According to EPA, budgetary constraints may affect its ability to reach this goal. According to the agency, EPA continues to focus on developing its Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Prime database, which it claims will reduce state burden, support effective management and prioritization of resources, and will enhance data quality and support the possibility of building an electronic data verification protocol. EPA said it plans to have the system operational in 2018. In addition, EPA said that it continues to provide training sessions as well as identify best practices that file reviewers can use to enhance file review implementation. For 2017-2018, EPA plans to continue quarterly national training events. A July 2017 report by EPA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that limitations to EPA's oversight tools impede the agency's ability to conduct consistent oversight of the national drinking water program and reduce the reliability of its monitoring and reporting data. The Inspector General did not make any recommendations because it concluded the agency is taking steps to address the shortcomings. For example, according to the Inspector General's report, EPA released the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal in September 2016. EPA water officials said the portal will enable public water systems and laboratories to report drinking water data electronically to primacy agencies. Utah became the first state to use the portal in March 2017 and EPA staff anticipate that five additional states will begin using the portal by the end of 2017. EPA anticipates this system will lead to fewer reporting errors, improved data quality, and reduced time needed to report state data to EPA.
    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: As of May 2017, EPA 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 Safe Drinking Water Information System (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 (Prime) 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, EPA will be able to consider developing goals for monitoring and reporting violations. As of May 2017, EPA is scheduled to have SDWIS Prime available for testing in September 2017 and available for state users at the end of March 2018. EPA 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: In August 2017, EPA told GAO that it continues to use a variety of tools and resources to identify strategies that will enhance how the agency conveys to the public information on drinking water quality and potential health risks associated with exposure to contaminants. With regard to GAO's recommendation, EPA told us it had previously collaborated with the EPA Regional managers to identify language that would enhance the communication of aggregate public health risk to consumers in regards to community water system measures. EPA developed the "person month" measure because it describes the percentage of people served by community water system that receive drinking water that meets all health-based drinking water standards, accounting for the duration of violations that occurred. EPA piloted this measure in Fiscal Year 2007 as an indicator measure. In Fiscal Year 2008, the measure was elevated to a strategic plan measure with established targets. After receiving positive response regarding this measure, in Fiscal Year 2015, the agency developed a "person month" measure for tribal community water systems. According to the agency, EPA will continue to take comments on existing and future measures during its 5 year strategic plan reviews.
    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.