Enforcement and Inspection

Senate Urged to Confirm EPA Nominees as Enforcement Languishes

In light of a steep decline in EPA enforcement, a coalition of 55 environmental groups and 144 EPA alumni sent a letter dated May 4, 2022, to U.S. Senate leaders urging the confirmation of the Biden nominee to lead the EPA enforcement division.

Annual enforcement reports published by the EPA reveal approximately a 50% decline in the number of inspections, criminal investigations, civil cases initiated or concluded, defendants charged with environmental crimes, and amounts violators paid for cleanup between 2018 and 2021 fiscal years compared with fiscal years 2002–2017, the letter states.

“Political indifference or hostility to environmental enforcement explains part of the decline, but so do budget cuts that have eliminated more than 22% of EPA’s enforcement workforce since President George W. Bush’s second term,” says the groups’ letter.

The nominee is David M. Uhlmann, University of Michigan law professor and former chief environmental crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice.  Uhlmann’s nomination occurred June 23, 2021, but has not been voted upon by the Senate.

The coalition sent a second letter urging Senate confirmation of Carlton Waterhouse, PhD, environmental justice expert and former EPA attorney, to serve as assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM).

The Biden administration also has two other EPA nominees pending: Chris Frey to lead the Agency’s research office and Joseph Goffman to lead the Office of Air and Radiation.

What’s the holdup?

One problem is a packed Congressional calendar, which, as of May 9, 2022, has 363 bills on deck.

Another issue is holds placed upon EPA nominees by senators. On February 16, 2022, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), MD, announced he would “block all EPA nominees from moving forward in the U.S. Senate due to unnecessary delays in EPA’s handling of Louisiana’s application” to obtain the ability to permit, site, and monitor carbon sequestration wells.

“Louisiana is the ideal location to store carbon underground and lower emissions. We have met the requirements and we have the workers, capacity and resources to begin this process. All that’s needed is the green light from the Biden administration,” said Cassidy in the press release issued by his office. “The EPA has emphasized their desire to lower emissions and ensure a healthy environment yet hinders Louisiana’s ability to do just that.”

Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) also had holds placed upon EPA nominees due to a dispute between Wyoming and the EPA about the state’s proposed regional haze plan for its Jim Bridger power plant.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) has also been in opposition to Biden’s EPA nominations due to “concerns with the president’s climate agenda,” says The Washington Post.

Goffman’s nomination is controversial. He’s an EPA veteran under the Obama administration who, after leaving the EPA, went to Harvard to serve as the executive director of its energy and environmental law program, where he wrote several articles criticizing the Trump administration’s EPA deregulatory actions.  These articles make him an unpopular pick for Republicans in the evenly divided Senate. Goffman is currently working as the acting head of the EPA air office.

Uhlmann’s, Goffman’s, and Waterhouse’s nominations are currently in the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for vetting EPA nominations, according to the Political Appointee Tracker developed by The Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post. Frey’s nomination has been favorably vetted and referred to the Senate for a vote.

“Given the broad, bipartisan support for a nomination that has been pending for more than ten months we hope the Senate will be given the chance to confirm Mr. Uhlmann at the earliest opportunity,” states the groups’ letter in support of Uhlmann’s confirmation. “Senators who have decided to oppose every nominee the Biden Administration puts forward, regardless of their merit, will be free to vote no. But we are optimistic that a majority will show their support for enforcing our environmental laws by giving this highly qualified nominee the chance to return to public service.”