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EPA Struggles to Enforce Environmental Standards and Control Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in order to maintain and preserve the environment and enforce the legislation that combats pollution and toxic-waste. However, a recent joint report by National Public Radio (NPR) and The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), has revealed the EPA to move at an incredibly slow pace when it comes to actual enforcement. After CPI filed a request for the lists to be made public knowledge through the Freedom of Information act last year, the EPA has begun to post its watch lists online. The information revealed in these lists shows an enormous number of Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act violators. Many of the companies in violation of these laws are repeat offenders and “high priority violators.” They have been allowed, to repeatedly and continually poison the air and water by dumping waste and toxic chemicals without proper environmental foresight.

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The report by CPI and NPR was conducted as a part of an investigation called “Poisoned Places.” The goal was to identify communities that suffered from excessive pollutants and the reasons that these communities have not seen any government intervention on behalf of the public’s health. In one article from the investigation, written by Ronnie Greene and Howard Berks, called, “Community Coated in Black Mist” states that,

“for more than a decade, residents of [Ponca City, Okla.] filled the local Department of Environmental Quality office with so many complaints they required 20 binders to hold” (Greene and Berks “Black Mist”).

The Federal EPA and its local offices are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of “high priority violators” that they are unable to keep up. Public Integrity explained, “the inspector general found that ‘in many instances EPA and States are not addressing high priority violations… in a timely manner” (CPI). Even the upper management of the EPA is disappointed in the inaction of government to protect its citizens from environmental health risks.

NPR has provided a map alongside their article, “Once Secret Watch-list of Alleged Polluters,” that shows violators and their geographic location. The map shows the degree of health risk, but does not single out any companies by name. Clearly, this is a huge concern for the health and safety of the people that live near polluters. Pollutants diminish air quality, water quality, and quality of life. The EPA has recognized its shortcomings in this area, but the ability of the agency to combat a problem this widespread is questionable. They have not been able to effectively punish these violators in the past and getting industry to cooperate with environmental standards has been difficult historically. Business traditionally resists change, especially when change will cause their costs to go up. This is why agencies like the EPA exist. If businesses can continue to violate environmental standards without penalty, some will continue to do so in order to keep costs down.

The social cost of this problem is entirely too high and government needs to step in and on behalf of the people that live in affected areas. In extreme cases, the pollution is so dense that citizens can actually see and touch it, see the “Black Mist” article. The EPA was created for the purpose of protecting citizens and the environment from health risks caused by pollution and harmful chemicals. Right now, the EPA has a great deal of work to do, but without sufficient public support it is unlikely that much will be accomplished. Hopefully, now that these secret EPA watch lists have been revealed and reported on, public support will help the EPA to enforce environmental standards.


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