Washington, DC - Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, welcomed a follow-up report released today from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG). This report, “EPA Should Strengthen Records Management on Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Notification Reviews for Surface Coal Mining,” delved more deeply into findings from the initial November 2011 OIG report requested by Senator Inhofe that confirmed that EPA, through its own actions, systematically slows the pace of permit evaluations in Appalachia. These findings were concerning enough to warrant the Inspector General to instigate this follow-up review.
“As I have said before, it is unfortunate that these reports prove that the regulated community cannot depend on the Obama EPA to have an open and transparent permit process,” Senator Inhofe stated. “EPA has a job to do and they need to do it, but deliberately delaying the issuance of Section 404 permits only further demonstrates this Administration's determination to shut down the development of our vast domestic fossil fuels.”
The purpose of this EPA IG-initiated follow-up review was to determine whether EPA Regions 3, 4, and 5 maintain records in accordance with the Federal Records Act for Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit notification reviews for surface coal mining. During site visits throughout the investigation, the EPA Inspector General observed the recordkeeping deficiencies that warranted this review.
The IG’s report notes, “Because staff does not consistently maintain records of reviews that did not result in EPA comment letters, it is difficult to discern whether regional staff reviewed a notification and did not comment on it, or did not review it at all. In an earlier, similar review, the Government Accountability Office noted that it, too, was unable to evaluate the extent to which EPA Region 3 and the Corps coordinated on 28 permit applications because of limited and varied documentation.”
The EPA agreed with the OIG findings. “We agree with your overall conclusion that further steps can be taken to better document our Section 404 reviews of projects seeking authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or authorized States,” said Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water. “It is a clear priority for the Office of Water to provide maximum transparency in the administration of the EPA’s role under the CWA section 404 regulatory program. The OIG recommendations should contribute to helping us achieve this important goal.”
“I am deeply concerned by the lack of a consistent, official recordkeeping system and the dismal communication between EPA headquarters and these regions that can ultimately lead to permit delays,” Senator Inhofe stated. “Even EPA has openly agreed that they need to provide greater transparency in their role with the CWA 404 permits; however, they have yet again failed to deliver on their promise of transparency.”
“Even more troubling,” pointed out Senator Inhofe, “is that as our nation works to find ways to cut our national debt, EPA has increased its budget and staff to evaluate these permits.”