Hearing to Consider the Nomination of John Peter Suarez
to be EPA Assistant Administrator for the
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
Tuesday, May 7, 2002, 11 a.m., SD-406
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing to consider the nomination of John Peter Suarez to head EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. The enforcement and compliance office, EPA, and the environment, have gone far too long without new leadership in this area.
EPA's enforcement and compliance program is at a cross-roads, between old ways of doing business and new ways that stress what is best for the environment as the ultimate test for what action to take.
To their credit, the last administration began the process of modernizing the enforcement program by reorganizing it. That reorganization recognized that there is more than one way to protect the environment and ensure people meet their environmental obligations.
EPA can improve the environment by assisting people to understand and meet their obligations. This is especially true for small businesses that want to do the right thing but can't wade through EPA's immense and complicated rules and regulations.
EPA can improve the environment by providing people with incentives to meet and go beyond their environmental obligations. These incentives are worth their weight in gold when they fix environmental problems that would otherwise go unknown or unprotected by traditional enforcement techniques.
EPA can also protect the environment with traditional enforcement techniques for the most harmful malefactors. Polluters who intentionally pollute, or polluters who refuse to fix their problems deserve strong and stiff punishment.
We understand that the cleaner, cheaper, smarter way to improve the environment, as Administrator Browner used to say, may not be the traditional approach. So, she combined all of these elements - enforcement, assistance, and incentives - into a single enforcement and compliance assurance office.
However, the transformation is not yet complete. There are still some that measure commitment to the environment in terms of beans - the number of cases settled, the number of penalty dollars collected. Unfortunately, these beans often times have little to do with protecting or improving the environment.
One example came two years ago when EPA sent out nearly 600 letters to facilities that omitted entries for nitrate compounds on their Toxic Release Inventory reporting forms. EPA threatened to assess fines totaling $20,000 per facility for these paperwork violations.
The problem was, other than these violations having no environmental impact, EPA found them by targeting firms trying to do the right thing - those actually submitting their forms.
This wasn't a case of a few bad actors. Eighty percent of filers failed to understand the requirement. Not surprising given that reporting instructions run several hundred pages. Professional consulting firms paid to know this requirement missed it. No wonder that half of those on EPA's hit list were small businesses.
Unfortunately, in the face of no damage to the environment, instead of helping these people understand their obligations and come into compliance, EPA's enforcement program went for maximum cases and maximum penalty dollars.
We need to prosecute forcefully those who intentionally harm the environment. We should deal harshly with those who refuse meet their environmental obligation. However, EPA needs to target its limited federal enforcement resources in areas and ways that do the most good for the environment.
The test should not be how to maximize traditional beans, or cases, or penalty dollars. EPA is not the IRS. They do not exist to collect money. They are here to protect the environment. I hope the first question you ask in every case will be: What is the most efficient, effective way to protect the environment? If you do that, the environment will benefit from your tenure. Thank you.