“Some are judging our work on a narrow set of parameters and then drawing the conclusion that EPA is somehow soft on environmental violators, that the EPA doesn’t care about compliance with the law. I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not true,” Bodine told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
She said that “narrative” discredits the work of career enforcement officials at the agency and only makes their job more difficult. “If a company doubts our resolve, it will take longer to reach a settlement," she said.
Democrats were quick to press Bodine about why the EPA’s enforcement numbers have dropped so precipitously under President Trump. The agency’s own data shows that the number of civil cases the enforcement division started and completed in 2018 hit a 10-year low, and the $69 million in civil penalties it leveled is the lowest in nearly a quarter-century.
“It’s hard to ignore the facts. So, if the EPA isn’t enforcing our environmental laws, who is?” DeGette asked. “The question is why? Why is the EPA sitting on the sidelines?”
Committee Republicans, by contrast, argued that numbers alone do not capture the breadth of the EPA’s efforts to get companies to adhere to federal environmental standards.
“I hope we don’t imply that one year of slightly lower penalties signals that EPA is not doing its job, or ensuring compliance with public environmental laws,” said the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Brett Guthrie (Ky.).
And Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) noted that the EPA’s voluntary disclosure program experienced a 47 percent increase in self-reporting of violations in fiscal 2018 compared with the year before.
“The dramatic increase in self-reports is a good thing,” Walden said, noting that 532 companies voluntarily reported violations at over 1,500 facilities to the EPA.
“We do a lot of work that is not captured in these annual results,” Bodine told lawmakers Tuesday, even as she added that the agency’s numbers will rise in 2019 because the federal government recently reached a major settlement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over emissions cheating.
She added that while it is difficult to measure overall compliance with environmental laws, the EPA has become more efficient about targeting noncompliance, thereby reducing the number of necessary annual inspections. She also noted that the EPA had opened more criminal enforcement cases during 2018 than the year before, reversing a downward trajectory in recent years.