Water Pollution:

Observations on Compliance and Enforcement Activities Under the Clean Water Act

T-RCED-91-80: Published: Jul 18, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 18, 1991.

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GAO discussed compliance with and enforcement activities under the Clean Water Act, focusing on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality programs. GAO noted that: (1) federal, municipal, and industrial facilities have a long-standing history of noncompliance with the act's requirements to monitor their effluent and meet pollutant discharge limits; (2) despite such serious and long-standing violations, EPA and state enforcement of water quality laws continue to be weak and sporatic; (3) a recent EPA evaluation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System disclosed that 14 percent of the nation's major municipal facilities, 6 percent of industrial facilities, and 18 percent of federal facilities had serious noncompliance problems; (4) EPA regions and states failed to assess penalties in accordance with its civil penalty policy and inadequately documented penalty reductions; (5) in June 1990, EPA issued a 4-year strategic plan to enhance overall compliance efforts; (6) although EPA developed guidance to define timely and appropriate enforcement of its pretreatment program, the guidance allowed enforcement officials broad discretion in their implementation of such guidance; and (7) EPA used such mild enforcement actions as verbal warnings, rather than fines or penalties. GAO also noted that an effective enforcement program requires: (1) the development of criteria allowing regulators to set enforcement priorities and identify appropriate enforcement actions; and (2) vigilant oversight by EPA headquarters of its regional offices' and states' enforcement activities.

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