The government shut down has seriously curtailed the EPA’s enforcement abilities. Just 182 of 804 employees are working at the agency unit responsible for enforcing legal action against air and water polluters. In one prominent example of staffing reductions, an investigation into a molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor (pictured) which was likely Hawaii’s worst-ever marine environmental disaster, has been set back. In all, about 94 percent of the agency’s 16,205 employees have been furloughed.
But it’s a good time for environmental managers to remind themselves about the EPA’s enforcement priorities, so they are prepared when activities start up again in full force. In June, the EPA announced that in 2014-16, it will continue to target its existing National Enforcement Initiatives. (The agency’s three-year evaluation schedule gives it the option to set new priorities for 2014-16, which it declined.) According to Environmental Daily Advisor, the priorities are:
- Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater from entering waterways;
- Keeping animal waste from contaminating ground and surface waters;
- Reduing toxic air pollution that affects people’s health – with a special focus on leak detection and repair, flaring reductions, and cuts to emissions from start-up, shutdown and malfunctions;
- Cutting widespread air pollution from the largest sources – particularly coal-fired utilities, cement, glass, and acid sectors;
- Lowering pollution from mineral mining processing.
- Ensuring that the energy extraction sector is compliant with environmental laws.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor for Environmental Leader PRO.
Picture credit: Hawaii Department of Health