Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of James M. Inhofe
Hearing: Full Committee
Oversight Hearing on EPA Regional Inconsistencies
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Today we are going to take a hard look at the organizational structure of the EPA and whether it contributes to damaging and unfair practices against states and businesses. I am referring to the regional structure that divides the agency into ten different geographical regions headed by a Regional Administrator managing approximately 1,000 EPA career employees. Because of this design, EPA regions are notoriously autonomous and have been known to advance their own priorities and agendas. Some regional flexibility is necessary. However, when regions make their own determination of law, we end up with ten different sets of rules for the regulated communities throughout the country. This is unfair to similarly situated businesses located in different regions. For example, businesses in a particularly aggressive region must comply with requirements that the same businesses in another region do not. The GAO will inform us of their studies on this issue and what they believe EPA could do to address this.

We will also hear today of an example of a renegade region whose interpretation of laws is not only contrary to national practice and standards but has been openly questioned by Congress and the Judicial Branch. [SEE CHART] When District Judge Gilbert threw out a Region 5 pesticide criminal case -- filed days before the statue of limitations ran -- he questioned the Government’s judgment in filing the case and declared the statute unconstitutionally vague as applied. Unfortunately, this was after the defendant, Wabash Valley, a farmer-owned co-op, paid over $220,000 to defend itself. Wabash Valley, however, was willing to spend any amount of money to keep their pesticide applicator out of jail for allegedly “applying pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

Another troubling incident occurred this past December. The Illinois agriculture community was shocked when Region 5 determined that the entire fertilizer retail industry -- approximately 500 members -- was not in compliance with the Clean Air Act because they did not include so-called nurse tanks in their Risk Management Plans. This Region 5 requirement was never communicated to the Ag. Community and is not required in other regions. In fact, Region 5’s first contact with the fertilizer retailers was to send enforcement letters to the members who had bothered to file RMPs only, threatening fines of $32,500 per day. [SEE CHART] Incredibly, the letters were mailed out on December 15 and gave the rural businessmen and women only ten days to respond over the Christmas holidays. [SEE CHART] Jean Payne, the President of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, is here to provide the facts of this story.

As a former businessman myself, I can speak to the challenges of disputing the federal government and bureaucracies like the EPA. It is not hard to imagine the level of fear and uncertainty that accompanies letters like these for the average citizen. I became aware of the situation immediately after the fertilizer retailers received the letters and I opened an inquiry as Chairman of the Committee of jurisdiction. I felt that someone had to help these farmers deal with the EPA.

Consequently, there are many important lessons we can learn from studying the EPA regional structure and how inconsistent enforcement impacts the regulated community, the states, and their relationship with one another. I am interested to hear from the states’ perspective -- through Dave Paylor, the Director of the Virginia DEQ -- how the EPA regions affect their ability to effectively monitor and enforce the environmental laws.

Finally, another important aspect that requires review when evaluating the EPA regions is the bureaucracy factor. Does the presence of only one Administration appointee hamper effective policy implementation? To what extent are unelected officials setting policy in the regions? If bureaucrats are managing the regions, how can we be sure that the public’s wishes are translated into policy and realistically implemented? I am a firm believer that elected officials who answer to a constituency can best manage according to the public’s will. Dr. Richard Waterman, author of the book Bureaucrats, Politics, and the Environment, is here today to help us understand the nuances accompanying the EPA bureaucracy and the strength of their voice in government today.

With unlimited resources, the EPA must be mindful of prosecution tactics that can actually survive judicial scrutiny. We should not hear about cases that are thrown out with judicial commentary chastising the government for filing a criminal case. I will continue to oversee the EPA regional activities to ensure that we are effectively protecting the environment as well as our citizens.

And a note to Mr. Schaeffer on the second panel – glad to see you back here once again. You have become quite a spokesperson for the environmentalists since your departure form the EPA in 2002 when you “resigned in protest” of the Administration’s policies. In your testimony you criticize the purpose of today’s hearing as being motivated by the Region 5 example from last December. My staff began this oversight initiative over a year ago and more than six months before the Region 5 example took place. They discovered the problem in Region 5 during the investigation.

It is my intention that today’s hearing will be the first in a series over the next two years looking at how the EPA bureaucracy operates. I am considering field hearings at the EPA Regional offices and legislation if needed to ensure that we get measurable results in reforming the EPA regions and their inconsistent, detrimental approach to our environmental laws.

 

 

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