U.S. EPA recently issued a draft strategy document in response to a December 2011 Inspector General Report that found inadequate enforcement of environmental laws at the state level. U.S. EPA's draft "National Strategy for Improving Oversight of State Enforcement Performance" outlines several possible enforcement options, including U.S. EPA overfiling and/or removal of a state's delegated authority to administer specific federal programs.
The draft strategy document acknowledges that although many states have effective enforcement programs, "state performance in meeting national enforcement goals and taking necessary enforcement actions varies across the country." Specific issues identified in the strategy document included (1) widespread and persistent data inaccuracy and incompleteness; (2) routine failure of states to identify and report serious non-compliance; (3) routine failure of states to take timely or appropriate enforcement actions; and (4) failure of states to seek appropriate penalties.
In an effort to address these issues, the strategy document proposes a tiered process. In the first instance, U.S. EPA would work with the state regulators in an effort to focus attention on the issue. If that is unsuccessful, the next step would be to elevate the issue to higher levels of management within the state. If the issue remains unresolved, U.S. EPA may elect to take more direct action, including conducting federal-only inspections and/or bringing federal-only cases. Finally, if these efforts fail, U.S. EPA may elect to overfile, withhold grant monies, or in rare circumstances, withdraw a delegated state program.
The draft strategy document has been sent to the states for review and comment. Notwithstanding any comments that might be received from the states, this strategy document clearly illustrates that U.S. EPA is closely evaluating state enforcement activities and appears ready and able (now that the shutdown is over) to step in and take action in situations where it decides that the states are not actively enforcing environmental laws.