Tackling the Cases That Matter Most

By Cynthia Giles

This week, EPA released its final strategic plan outlining the agency’s priorities for the next four years, including enforcement and compliance assurance. When the draft plan was released back in November, we received thousands of public comments that stressed the importance of a robust enforcement program that holds polluters accountable and deters violations of environmental laws. I couldn’t agree more.

Now that we have a clearer understanding of EPA’s budget, we have made some adjustments to the numbers outlined in the plan. While they are projections – and actual results are often higher than projected – greater budget certainty has allowed us to increase some of the targets. The final strategic plan reflects EPA’s commitment to vigorous enforcement for the cases that have the highest impact on protecting public health and the environment.

Our commitment is evident in recent cases. We just announced a settlement with Anadarko that recovers a record $4.4 billion to fund environmental cleanups in hundreds of communities across the country. Tonawanda Coke is required to pay a $12.5 million criminal fine and $12.2 million in community service payments, as a result of its criminal conduct in releasing toxic chemicals into neighboring communities. An agreement with Alpha Natural Resources requires the company to spend an estimated $200 million to install and operate wastewater treatment systems to reduce discharges of pollution affecting communities in five states across Appalachia, along with a record $27.5 million penalty designed to deter other companies from similar violations.

And these examples are just from the past month. Our 2013 Annual Results demonstrate the same strategy is paying dividends. Focusing on large, high impact cases requires significant investment and long-term commitment. But this is the right way to invest our resources to achieve tangible and lasting returns to the public. This strategy necessarily means that the overall number of cases will tend to be lower than in past years, especially in a time of constrained budgets. Our commitment to enforcement remains just as strong, as we focus on the work that makes the most difference to protecting public health and the environment.

New programs will help to reinforce traditional enforcement measures still vital to reducing pollution. Next Generation Compliance adds new tools to support strong enforcement and increase compliance. Modernized electronic reporting is helping us find the most serious violators more quickly. Advanced monitoring technology is helping to identify serious pollution problems and devise effective solutions. Increased transparency – a focus of recent flaring case settlements where companies are required to conduct fence-line monitoring and publically post that data online – is proving a powerful driver for compliance and reduced pollution, especially in overburdened communities that need it most.

The public input on the strategic plan helped to make it stronger. The plan makes clear that tough enforcement is the backbone of environmental protection. It will continue to be a top priority as we tackle the largest, highest impact cases and utilize the latest technology to deliver on our commitment to the American people.