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Highlights

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' progress in implementing the EPA enforcement response policy under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), focusing on: (1) the extent to which EPA and authorized states took timely and appropriate enforcement actions against high-priority violators; (2) EPA oversight of the appropriateness of state enforcement actions; (3) whether EPA criteria for enforcement action produce sufficient and uniform enforcement across EPA regions and the states; and (4) whether EPA and states followed up on enforcement actions to ensure that handlers corrected violations.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. To improve EPA and state performance in implementing the EPA Enforcement Response Policy, and also to ensure an equitable and consistent application of RCRA enforcement actions nationwide, the Administrator, EPA, should reinforce to the regions their responsibility to monitor state enforcement actions and to take direct enforcement action against hazardous waste handlers when states fail to do so in a timely and appropriate manner. Reinforcement of this requirement should, as a minimum, be reflected in annual headquarters RCRA program implementation guidance to the regions.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA believes its regional offices have an active and effective process to monitor state enforcement actions, and that further action is not warranted at this time.
Environmental Protection Agency 2. The Administrator, EPA, should direct the regions to take steps to ensure that they meet the timeliness and appropriateness criteria for enforcement actions that they take in order to set an example for the states to follow in implementing the Enforcement Response Policy and hold the regions accountable for meeting these criteria.
Closed - Implemented
Under the EPA Strategic Targeted Activities for Results System, regional offices are now required to report unaddressed, high-priority violations and take informal actions against additional facilities. However, EPA does not believe that establishing an accountability system is warranted.
Environmental Protection Agency 3. In order for EPA headquarters to closely monitor regional and state performance in meeting timely and appropriate criteria, the Administrator, EPA, should direct that the EPA Strategic Planning and Management System be revised to incorporate enforcement performance reporting requirements that are consistent with the timeliness and appropriateness criteria in the Enforcement Response Policy and hold regions accountable for meeting these criteria.
Closed - Implemented
The EPA Strategic Targeted Activities for Results System has been revised to require consistency with its timeliness and appropriateness enforcement requirements. However, EPA does not believe an accountability system is warranted.
Environmental Protection Agency 4. The Administrator, EPA, should require authorized states to adopt penalty policies that consider the full economic benefit of noncompliance consistent with the RCRA Civil Penalty Policy.
Closed - Implemented
In connection with the EPA revised 1990 penalty policy, EPA has issued a memo urging states to adopt the new policy. However, because state penalty laws vary, EPA has not made the policy mandatory.
Environmental Protection Agency 5. The Administrator, EPA, should clarify the Enforcement Response Policy to include time frames for states to take enforcement actions on cases referred to them from EPA regions.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA agreed, but believes such changes to the EPA enforcement response policy should be considered when EPA decides to make comprehensive changes to its response policy, which is not expected at this time.
Environmental Protection Agency 6. The Administrator, EPA, should require that the regions and states fully and clearly document their enforcement activities with specific emphasis on penalty calculations and compliance follow-up activities.
Closed - Implemented
The EPA 1990 penalty policy requires regions to document penalties, and it has urged states to adopt its 1990 policy, including documentation. EPA does not consider documentation of enforcement and followup to be a problem warranting action, and plans no further action.
Environmental Protection Agency 7. The Administrator, EPA, should determine the resource needs of the enforcement program, and, if resources are insufficient, provide such information to the appropriate congressional committee for their consideration.
Closed - Not Implemented
This recommendation, in a broader context, has been reemphasized in GAO/RCED-88-115, and hopefully will be discussed during the RCRA reauthorization process.

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