EPA: Georgia enforces law better than most, which is not saying much

Georgia beats at least half of the other states when it comes to enforcing federal green laws, says the EPA … but adds that the whole pack of results are fairly sorry.

The state’s lead is calculated in a new EPA report that tested compliance via three sample cases: parts of three key federal laws — the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Georgia scored 26 percent, 45 percent and 21 percent, respectively, on compliance with said items. The numbers, out of 100, measure how often Georgia inspected facilities, how often they found violations, and how often violations earned a fine.

Silt is a problem b/c it does stuff besides clouding water. It kills infrastructure: Bull Sluice Lake above Morgan Falls Dam in Fulton County used to be a reservoir. Then it filled up with silt. It'd be an underwater sand mine if somebody mined it. Photo by Jim Kundell/Digital Library of Georgia

But overall, “EPA has not implemented a nationally consistent enforcement program. In our opinion, regions do not consistently take action when states do not enforce the law according to EPA’s policies and the regulations established under federal laws,” reads the report. On the three laws, the average (mean) state performance was 16 percent (water), 39 percent (air) and 18 percent (resources.)  It’s on FY 2003-2009 data.

“Weak and inconsistent” enforcement by states is one culprit. If a state inspects, say, 100 percent of industrial farms, and finds zero violations, or levies $0 fines … that’s probably a sign they’re not inspecting too closely. Or if there’s a “culture in which the state agency is expected to protect industry,” <cough, Louisania, cough> … that’s not going to keep ur state clean.

Yet slackitude isn’t all the poorness. The report also notes, like, uh, there aren’t really nice EPA benchmarks for the states to aim for. Like, what does the law mean by “appropriate” inspection? Inspecting every major polluter once a year?  Once every two years? Twice a year? And, lolz, what’s an “appropriate” fine or penalty?

How calculated?

The EPA’s compliance office actually wrote this report. And “The Agency” as a whole didn’t dig it all. “The Agency” suggested the numbers are too simplified, they don’t reflect the complexity of enforcement, the report is too reliant on EPA’s own internal data, and focused too much on just the parts of the three particular laws chosen for the study. A larger sample size might have drawn a different picture.

The reporters came by their numbers by: (1) checking what percent of a state’s facilities are inspected every year (2) the percent of inspections that found a significant problem and (3) the percent of said violations that resulted in a penalty for the polluter.

To that, they added interviews, federal enforcement data, and previous reviews of each state.

Then, they compared each state to a numerical “goal.”

If ur interested to read more, methodology takes up plenty of the report.

Below the fold:

  • Federal enviro laws, like the Clean Air Act, are enforced by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, a state agency. That’s how it works in most states.

But when Georgia flubs, a problem is widespread or if Washington sends down a national priority, the federal Environmental Protection Agency can step in. Industry dreads enforcement by those distant, suspicious feds, rather than the fellers they know in Atlanta. It was the feds, not Atlanta, that recently set the record for priciest penalty ever put on a Georgia erosion violation: $2.8 million on a road contractor for dumping dirt into trout streams.

The Georgia Department of Transportation — through its road-building contractors — is the biggest erosion polluter in the state.  Dump dirt into streams (hence rivers and dammed-up lakes) and you get wildlife & rivers & reservoirs displaced and replaced with crummy silt.

  • More detailed state-by-state reviews on enforcement in the FY 2008-2012 period will come out some time after June 2012.  Find the prequels, the FY 2003-2007 state review frameworks, here.

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