NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EPA Bullies Pollute State Control Efforts

April 23, 1997

States which have adopted programs of "environmental self-audits" for companies are complaining that the Environmental Protection Agency is frightening firms away from the audits and hindering pollution reduction.

  • The state programs allow companies to check their own operations for pollution problems, and require them to report and correct violations.
  • When they comply, fines are waived and records from internal audits cannot be used against the firms.
  • Since Texas enacted such a law two years ago, 470 companies there have completed internal reviews -- with 69 reporting and correcting violations.
  • Since 1993, 18 states have enacted some form of environmental audit protection.

But the EPA is battling the states over how much protection self-auditing firms should get. The agency wants access to companies' disclosure forms so it can use them in proceedings. Fines and prison terms for pollution violations are hefty.

Last year the EPA told several states it would take away their authority to oversee some federal environmental laws unless they curtailed their audit laws. Some state officials say the disparity in federal and state approaches is having a chilling effect on businesses that might disclose problems.

States enacted the laws because they have limited resources with which to measure compliance. Texas, for example, has 700 state inspectors to oversee 50,000 businesses. The self-audit approach was adopted to allow the state to use agents in a more efficient manner, as well as to encourage voluntary compliance among businesses.

According to the head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, "It's absurd. It's heavy-handed federal government. There's no excuse for that."

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "States Get Firms to Come Clean," Investor's Business Daily, April 23, 1997.


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