Congress should consider giving Environmental Protection Agency enforcement agents the power to carry weapons and arrest violators of waste disposal laws, a congressional subcommittee reported yesterday.
Toxic-waste law enforcement has come to "a virtual halt" under the Reagan administration, the panel said, even though there is clear evidence that organized crime controls illicit waste disposal in New Jersey.
In yet another sharp rebuke to EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said seven hearings over 19 months by his House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee found "serious problems of mismanagement by EPA officials, and by New Jersey authorities up until mid-1981, in the administration of their hazardous-waste enforcement programs."
The report said the slowdown in enforcement actions was "staggering . . . a 79-percent decline in cases referred to EPA headquarters from the regional offices and a 69-percent decrease in cases referred to the Department of Justice" from 1980 to 1981. It blamed the situation on EPA's "continual reorganization of its enforcement structure" and on its "non-confrontational voluntary compliance" program.
"EPA's poor performance combined mismanagement, disregard or indifference by top agency officials regarding their enforcement responsibilities," the report said.
EPA associate administrator Robert M. Perry responded that the report was "unprincipled" and "reflected the same tired old criticisms which we have answered time and again over the last year." He said it did not reflect recent accomplishments or a recently increased rate of enforcement-case referrals to the Justice Department.
Republican committee members also filed a formal dissent, asserting that current evidence "demonstrates that EPA has resumed its civil enforcement case referrals to historical levels."
The committee report included several tales of bungled law enforcement in New Jersey, which generates more toxic waste than any other state. Testimony cited delays, listless investigation and misrepresentions of progress by the Inter-Agency Hazardous Waste Strike Force, which received $1.5 million in federal funding between 1978 and 1981.
Witnesses also provided evidence that the Genovese, DeCavalcante and Gambino families control toxic-waste disposal in the state, the report said.
The panel recommended that the FBI initiate prosecutions without waiting for EPA referrals and that state police do more to help halt trucks that carry the wastes. Legislation to give arms and arrest powers to EPA enforcers, it said, should be considered "in view of the dangerous nature of hazardous-waste investigations."