Industrial area by Lake Michigan in Indiana

Clean Water

Region 5 Clean Water Enforcement Report

ELPC's team reviewed and analyzed publicly available enforcement data for EPA’s Region 5 office, which covers six Great Lakes states, and found declining environmental enforcement in the Midwest, putting the Great Lakes at risk.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stepped back from its responsibility to protect the Great Lakes under the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) reviewed and analyzed publicly available enforcement data for EPA’s Region 5 office, which covers six Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. ELPC found shrinking funds, plummeting staff levels, declining enforcement metrics, and a corresponding rise in significant noncompliance with the Clean Water Act.

Chart shows declining enforcement in EPA Region 5 coincides with rising noncompliance since 2012

EPA Region 5 declining enforcement and rising noncompliance (click to enlarge)

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 far 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.

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 improve its environmental law enforcement and compliance activities and effectively spend and deploy the full amount of funds appropriated by Congress.
  • The Trump administration should increase its appropriations requests to fund more enforcement and compliance monitoring staff and resources.
  • Congress should appropriate increased enforcement funds for EPA nationally and for Region 5 in particular.

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