EPA's Sanctions Policy Is Not Consistent With the Clean Air Act

RCED-85-121: Published: Sep 30, 1985. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the legality and appropriateness of the sanctions policy adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for communities that fail to meet air quality standards imposed by the Clean Air Act; and (2) the effects of a long-standing construction ban in communities that failed to meet air quality standards before the deadline the act imposed.

EPA has the authority under the act to impose sanctions against communities that fail to meet the act's requirements, including: (1) banning construction or modification of factories or other facilities that would be major pollution sources; and (2) reducing EPA or federal highway grants for activities that might contribute to increased pollution. GAO found that: (1) for states and communities that missed a December 1982 deadline, EPA decided to call for revised air quality implementation plans and set new deadlines; (2) subsequently, Congress prohibited EPA from imposing sanctions in states that had submitted implementation plans, whether or not the plans would result in air quality improvements; and (3) EPA has not changed its sanction policy, which could be a violation of the act because it does not impose automatic sanctions on communities that fail to meet the act's requirements. In addition, GAO found that construction bans that were imposed on communities that failed to meet 1978 and 1979 implementation deadlines have had little effect because: (1) the sluggishness of the economy during the period in question caused a decline in planned construction; (2) EPA originally designed the ban so that it would have limited applications; (3) some companies were able to design and construct facilities that emitted pollutants at acceptable rates; and (4) a large percentage of air pollution comes from sources other than factories and buildings.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA disagreed with the legal basis for this recommendation. Congress will act on sanctions when it amends the Clean Air Act. EPA is developing a strategy which will address this issue. Congress is studying amendments to the Clean Air Act, which will include revising attainment dates and specifying more clearly under what conditions sanctions will apply if an area misses an attainment date.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should either: (1) develop and implement a policy to provide sanctions for areas not attaining air quality standards by the deadlines specified in the Clean Air Act; or (2) seek relief through proposed legislation from the applicable Clean Air Act provisions, which GAO believes require the imposition of such sanctions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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