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Rounds Delivers Opening Statement at EPW Subcommittee Hearing on EPA Enforcement Actions

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight, today delivered the opening statement at his hearing entitled, “Oversight of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement and Compliance Programs.” The purpose of today’s hearing is to conduct oversight related to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement actions.


Rounds’ opening statement, as prepared for delivery:


The Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight is meeting today to conduct a hearing entitled “Oversight of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement and Compliance Programs.”


Today we will hear testimony from Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


We will be conducting oversight on the EPA’s civil, criminal enforcement, and compliance programs and explore suggestions for improvement.


Federal laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act give the EPA the authority to issue penalties and pursue criminal and civil actions in order to enforce requirements of environmental laws.


The EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, or, OECA, administers EPA’s environmental enforcement and compliance programs and provides compliance assistance to the EPA’s regional offices, states, businesses, local governments and tribes.


However, in recent years, rather than providing compliance assistance, the EPA has dictated compliance by engaging in heavy-handed environmental enforcement.


We have heard multiple reports of the EPA inspecting facilities and leaving the company waiting years for the results, imposing huge fines on companies that self-reported and corrected simple administrative errors, and a lack of transparency regarding environmental violations. 


Rather than assisting with compliance, the EPA chooses to simply impose aggressive and - at times - unreasonable penalties using questionable enforcement methods.


For example, in 2015 the EPA threatened Andy Johnson, a Wyoming farmer and father of four, with $16 million dollars in fines alleging he had violated the Clean Water Act by constructing a stock pond on his property.


It took the Johnson family over a year to settle a lawsuit with the EPA.


In 2012, the EPA was criticized for using aerial surveillance over farms in Iowa and Nebraska to investigate Clean Water Act violations, rather than speaking with the landowners personally about the alleged violations.


And most alarmingly, in 2010, an EPA Regional Administrator was quoted as saying he wanted to “crucify” oil and gas companies like Roman conquerors, with the goal of making them “easy to manage for the next few years.”


Tactics and statements like this by EPA officials who are supposed to be working collaboratively with stakeholders are worrisome and lead to serious questions regarding the integrity of the EPA enforcement process.


Further, the EPA has expanded their use of section 114 information requests under the Clean Air Act.


“Section 114 letters” allow the EPA to collect information from covered entities for use in developing a regulation or as part of an investigation for an enforcement action.


The EPA has increasingly issued section 114 letters to companies who are not the target of an enforcement action but merely may have information relevant to a separate investigation, of which they are not a part of.


These information requests are extremely burdensome, can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, and - despite the fact that the company receiving the request is not involved in an enforcement action, they can still be subject to criminal and civil penalties if they do not accurately comply with these requests in a timely fashion.


Additionally, the EPA has begun the implementation of their Next Generation Compliance Initiative which, among other things, would outsource EPA enforcement responsibilities to third-party auditors who would take the place of actual EPA personnel in enforcing environmental laws.


We all want clean air and clean water.


Compliance with environmental laws is a requirement and there should be repercussions for breaking those laws.


However, when an agency unfairly targets certain sectors of the economy or imposes large fines on small companies who take the time to voluntarily self-report, or whose only recourse is to pay the fine because they do not have the resources to engage in a time consuming lawsuit, it runs contrary to the true intent the EPA’s enforcement program.


The EPA should strive to be a resource that assists with environmental compliance rather than an agency that simply uses fines and scare tactics the dictate compliance.


When the EPA works in a transparent cooperative fashion with the regulated community, taxpayer dollars will be better managed, environmental laws will be more effective, and our environment will be cleaner for it.


I’d like to thank our witness for being with us today and I look forward to hearing your testimony.


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