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Senator says documents show EPA cutting enforcement
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<-- Return To Right to Know or Left to Wonder?

Source: Planet Ark

Senator says documents show EPA cutting enforcement

Source: Copyright 2002, Reuters
Date: 3/14/2002
By: Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON - Internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show cuts in the number of agency employees who police anti-pollution efforts, a trend that could harm the health of Americans, a Democratic senator said this week.

The number of EPA employees who enforce the nation's environmental laws fell 13 percent from 2001 to 2002 and would fall an additional 6 percent in 2003, according to agency documents released by California Democrat Barbara Boxer at a Senate hearing.

The U.S. Congress still must debate and approve the 2003 budget submitted by the Bush administration in February.

Boxer called the Bush administration's proposed cut in the EPA's 2003 enforcement budget "a stealth attack on the health of Americans."

Fewer EPA enforcement staff will hinder efforts to enforce laws ranging from the Clean Air Act to asbestos in schools and toxic sludge, she said at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

Green groups have accused the Bush administration of ignoring or reversing several environmental protection rules disliked by industry as costly and cumbersome. Some companies that had been close to settling pollution cases with the agency are now backing away because of the perception that the EPA is cutting enforcement efforts, the environmental groups say.

The EPA said its budget numbers are misunderstood and that there are no cuts planned for enforcement staff.

"The budget for federal environmental enforcement programs is being cut, and we are losing expertise as a result," said Eric Schaeffer, the former director of EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, at the hearing. Schaeffer resigned last month, citing a "political attack" on the EPA's efforts to rein in companies that pollute.

Boxer based her criticism on EPA documents that show cuts in so-called "full-time equivalent" positions for agency employees involved in compliance monitoring and civil enforcement.

The documents, obtained by Boxer from an undisclosed source, included a spreadsheet giving detailed data about the agency's enforcement budget. Boxer had previously asked top EPA officials to provide the data, but the agency declined.

Separately, staff budgeted to bring court cases against offenders fell about 8 percent to 848.1 equivalent positions in 2003 from 954.8 positions in 2001, the EPA document shows. Those numbers do not include enforcement of EPA's Superfund program.

Bureaucrats discount the importance of full-time equivalents as an indicator of actual manpower, while legislators say they are the only clear evidence of staffing trends.

At a separate Senate hearing last week, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said it was "misleading" to equate full-time equivalents with actual EPA positions filled, and characterized EPA's enforcement program as "active."

"Work years do not translate directly into positions filled," Whitman said, pointing to 100 new enforcement staff hires the EPA expects to make this year. Enforcement staff make up about one-fifth of EPA's total workers, she said.

"There is no hiring freeze in that part of the agency," she said.

Full-time equivalents are "not people per se, but that's the only way to measure who is there," a congressional source said on condition of anonymity. "This really is a cut in federal enforcement."

The EPA documents also show the number of planned EPA inspections falling to 14,000 in 2003 from 17,812 in 2001, a 21 percent decrease.

"They're taking the environmental cop off the beat," said Wesley Warren with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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