For Immediate Release: Jul 18, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
“No Surprises” Policy Aims to Avoid Embarrassing State Agencies
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled a “no surprises” policy that constrains its future inspections and enforcement actions. The move contributes to the recent rapid retreat in EPA direct actions against polluters, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a July 11, 2019 memo, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine outlined a “no surprises” principle that will serve as the “foundation” of the agency’s civil enforcement approach, including:
- Providing states “with advance notice of inspections” and taking steps for deciding “when facilities are to be provided notice of inspections”;
- Notifying the state in advance before taking any enforcement action; and
- Working with states to “reduce unnecessary burdens on the regulatory community.”
“Taking the element of surprise away from inspections decreases their effectiveness, for obvious reasons,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney. “I fear that EPA’s ‘no surprises’ posture masks a ‘see no evil’ approach to corporate polluters.”
The Bodine memo declares that “EPA will generally defer to a state as the primary implementer of inspections and enforcement.” It also deemphasizes EPA oversight of federally funded state efforts, declaring that EPA will only “conduct a limited number of inspections to verify the efficacy of authorized [state] enforcement programs.”
PEER points to EPA recently declining to address pollution problems with state mining permits in Minnesota and continuing problems in Flint, Michigan, as examples of harmful EPA deferral.
“Basing enforcement on interagency consensus places politics above pollution control,” added Whitehouse, noting the policy’s disturbing absence of any mention of pollution reduction as a goal. “Nobody opposes cooperation or supports duplication, but this policy risks environmental protection by giving the upper hand to corporate polluters and states that don’t want to enforce environmental laws.”
Ironically, Bodine’s memo posits continued EPA primacy over criminal enforcement efforts. Yet, figures compiled by PEER show that EPA’s criminal enforcement efforts are shriveling under Trump.