THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency is finally cracking down on one of the nation's most prominent polluters: the federal government itself. EPA Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum has just warned 11 agencies, including the military, that they may be taken to court unless they act immediately to bring all their installations into compliance with the water-and air-pollution laws.
It's about time. Althought the government has spent over $3.3 billion to crub its own pollution since 1968, too many facilities still lag behind. Last month the U.S.Chamber of Commerce embrassed the administration, and rightly so, by publicizing the fact that about 99 per cent all industries had met the July I deadlines of the clean-waters law, but at least one-fourth of all federal facilities had not. As of Oct. 7, according operations were not complying with the water law; 24 per cent were polluting the air too much.
Some of the tardiness is understandable. Forts belvoir and Lee in Virginia, for instance, are waiting to hook up with public waste-treatment plants that are still being built. In many case, though, agencies have simply dragged their feet or are still wrestling with the kinds of technical and budgetary problems that industries and municipalities have already been required to slove. EPA field officials and local authorities have been complaining about some polluters, such as GSA's local heating plants, for years. But until now there has been no real, high-level push to make such laggards meet the deadlines and standards that apply to everyone else.
EPA now has both more resolve and more authority. This summer's clean-air-act amendments clarifed the agency's power to take federal violators to court. Congressional conferees seem likely to include similiar privisions in pending amendments to the water act. EPA has already joined with states and citizens insuing the Tennessee Valley Authority over air pollution at 10 TVA power plants. The new EPA "hit list" names 77 "major" federal water polluters and 72 "major" air polluters, including 19 military bases and two power plants cited on both counts.
Of course litigation should not be required. It won't be - if all agencies face up to their responsibilities, and if the Office of Management and Budget and Congress come up with the necessary funds. OMB does seem to be nore strongly committed to effective action now than in the past. That is encouraging. The nation's overall anti-pollution program is moving into a new, difficult and very expensive stage. Federal demands on industries and local governments will be much credible and acceptable once the federal establishment itself comes clean.