The Environmental Protection Agency conducted more on-site inspections of industrial sites this year than any time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports the Associated Press, as it seeks to reinvigorate its enforcement program after more than a decade of budget cuts.
EPA opened nearly 200 criminal investigations this year, a 70% increase over 2022, the agency says in a report. It completed nearly 1,800 civil settlements, a 9% increase over 2022. More than half the inspections and settlements involved communities long scarred by pollution, the agency says, reflecting the Biden administration’s emphasis on environmental justice issues.
EPA says its enforcement and compliance work have resulted in the reduction, treatment, elimination or minimization of 1.84 billion pounds of pollutants, and required violators to pay over $704 million in penalties, fines, and restitution. The dollar amount is a 57% increase over 2022.
The increase comes as EPA’s enforcement staff remains far below its peak of more than a decade ago, even as officials move to add about 300 positions. EPA eliminated approximately 950 enforcement positions following budget cuts imposed since 2011.
Among its recent enforcement efforts were the EPA’s lawsuit against Norfolk Southern railway over a train derailment in eastern Ohio, and its suit against Denka Performance Elastomer, alleging that its petrochemical operations in southern Louisiana posed an unacceptable cancer risk to the mostly-Black community nearby. Read the full story about the report.