The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stepped back from its responsibility to protect Midwestern water under the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) reviewed and analyzed publicly available enforcement data for EPA’s Region 7 office, which covers four Great Plains states: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. ELPC found shrinking funds, plummeting staff levels, declining enforcement metrics, and a corresponding rise in significant noncompliance with the Clean Water Act.
Analysis of U.S. EPA Region 7’s Clean Water Enforcement:
Troubling Trends put Midwest Water at Risk
Despite decades of bipartisan agreement on the value of environmental protection, the Republican-led Congress has consistently cut EPA’s budget over the past few years, and President Trump has proposed further budget cuts each year he’s been in office. Under his leadership, EPA began spending even less than appropriated, leaving a shrinking staff struggling to do more with less. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we have more facilities out of compliance today than we did just a few years ago. Without a strong expectation of environmental law enforcement, facilities are more likely to violate the law and avoid accountability.
The report highlighted six major polluters with water pollution permit violations extending over many days. These are mines, metals processing and lead-based battery plants, and food processing and animal processing plants with multiple Clean Water Act violations, but EPA Region 7 failed to file federal enforcement actions.
We cannot take our environment and public health for granted. The EPA has a critical mission to uphold federal-level Clean Water Act enforcement. Therefore, ELPC recommends the following:
- EPA should refocus on its critical mission of upholding the rule of law and ensuring tough-but-fair enforcement of the Clean Water Act. It must improve environmental law enforcement funds and compliance activities, hire and retain adequate staff, and effectively deploy the full amount of funds appropriated by Congress.
- Concerned Americans should contact their members of Congress to ensure the agency has the tools to protect safe, clean water through adequate enforcement, both through supportive policies and increased funding. Likewise, residents of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, & Nebraska should contact their state officials to ask for more resources for state environmental protection agencies.
- Congress should increase funding for EPA’s enforcement and compliance so there is sufficient enforcement staff capacity at EPA in Region 7 and nationally. Likewise, Congress should increase funding for State and Tribal Assistance Grants to support enforcement and compliance monitoring activities by local environmental protection agencies.
Find media coverage of this report in the Des Moines Register here