Blog Action Day: EPA in the News

Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers around the world post about environmental topics. It seems like a good time to take a look at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been in the news lately.

Late last month, as Carol Leonnig reported in the Washington Post, EPA issued new national water regulations that it said will help reduce lead in drinking water, keep utilities honest in testing for lead and warn the public when water poses a health risk.

That sounds good, right? EPA is doing its job to keep our air and water healthy and clean. It’s too bad that other recent news items paint a far bleaker picture of the agency’s work on pollutants.

Environmentalists welcomed the news that EPA had reached a settlement with American Electric Power, in which the utility agreed to spend $4.6 billion to slash its sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution – but then the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin pointed out that the settlement included a section that assures AEP that the government will not pursue any action stemming from the “modification” of these plants between now and Dec. 31, 2018. So, the EPA just has to trust that AEP will follow the agreement, because they won’t be enforcing it.

Washington Post reporters have also pointed out that EPA has been pursuing far fewer criminal cases against polluters during the Bush administration – the number of prosecutions, new investigations, and total convictions all down by more than a third.

OMB Watch reports that the agency also caught criticism from the Government Accountability Office, which found that EPA did not follow guidelines for rule development when it reduced the reporting requirements under the Toxics Release Inventory – a program that has helped communities successfully press for elimination of toxic pollution and plan for emergencies.
 
Marla Cone at the LA Times informs us that 54 scientists, including five Nobel Laureates, warned EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson that methyl iodide – the toxic fumigant that’s replacing methyl bromide, which is banned under an international treaty because of its effect on the ozone layer – places pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farmworkers, and other people living near application site at serious risk.

At the Seattle P-I, Andrew Schneider gives us an advance look at another GAO report. This one finds that EPA’s examination of 266 sites that processed asbestos ore from Libby, Montana used outdated criteria and underestimated or completely missed the dangers to people who worked there or lived nearby. Health advocates also fault EPA’s failure to adequately warn homeowners about the risks they face from asbestos insulation.

“EPA doing its job” doesn’t make for a great headline, so I’m sure that the agency is still doing a lot of good work that isn’t getting reported. But seeing this many stories about EPA not doing its job in the span of just a couple weeks is worrisome.