EPA Should Help Small Communities Cope With Federal Pollution Control Requirements

CED-80-92: Published: May 30, 1980. Publicly Released: May 30, 1980.

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GAO selected nine small communities in New England and the Pacific Northwest to do an in-depth analysis of the social and economic problems caused by federally funded sewage systems. GAO also obtained information on an additional 20 communities affected by two or more federal pollution control requirements, to determine if the multiple pollution control requirements caused problems in these communities.

Small communities face higher per capita costs and a lack of technical expertise in complying with federal environmental regulations. GAO believes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must make a special effort to help these communities. Among the problems discovered were inadequate justification for building new sewer systems, social and economic hardships, frustration by nontechnical local officials who are responsible for these highly technical projects, and overbuilt sewage systems. Many of these problems could be eliminated by better EPA review of project plans and more technical assistance for small communities. The increased costs of complying with multiple requirements of recent federal pollution legislation compound the problems small communities face in meeting the requirements. GAO believes EPA needs to experiment with comprehensive approaches to pollution control for small communities such as: federal block grants for the most pressing environmental problems, a special technical assistance coordinator to assist communities in planning programs, phased implementation of federal requirements when concurrent implementation would be too costly, and suspension and waiver of requirements when costs are high and the potential environmental benefits are minimal or the project is environmentally harmful.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should require EPA regional administrators to see that the States carefully review the facilities' plans for all pending and future grants for small community treatment systems, to make sure that the social and economic impacts of new treatment systems are clearly identified and the size and type of the new systems fully justified. The Administrator should develop methods of providing additional technical assistance to help small communities with new sewage treatment systems, especially during the planning process. Two possible approaches are using EPA field engineers and approving grants for independent technical specialists. Also, the Administrator should develop proposals to experiment with comprehensive pollution control approaches specifically tailored to address the environmental and social needs of small communities. EPA should present these proposals to Congress with recommendations for implementing them, including any needed legislative changes to allow for effective, comprehensive experimentation.

    Agency Affected:


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