Alarmed by Declining EPA Enforcement, 55 Environmental Groups Urge Senate to Confirm Long-Delayed EPA Enforcement Chief – YubaNet


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Alarmed by a sharp decline in EPA enforcement, 55 environmental groups and 144 EPA alumni urged the Senate to expedite the long-delayed confirmation of a veteran environmental crime prosecutor as EPA’s chief of enforcement. 

David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former chief environmental crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, was nominated by the Biden Administration on June 23, 2021, to direct the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. But his nomination has since languished in the Senate for more than 10 months, leaving EPA’s understaffed civil enforcement division without confirmed leadership. 

In a letter sent to Senate leadership today, advocates said they hope Uhlmann will help reverse a slump at EPA that includes a roughly 50 percent drop in civil inspections, criminal investigations and cases referred for prosecution in 2018-2021 compared to the average from 2002 to 2017. (See chart at bottom).

In a second letter sent to Senate leadership, environmental groups also demanded that the Senate confirm another long-delayed EPA nomination:  that of former EPA attorney and environmental justice expert, Dr. Carlton Waterhouse, to lead EPA’s waste management and Superfund cleanup program.

“President Biden promised to ‘hold polluters accountable’ and ‘prioritize environmental justice’ in his January 20, 2021, Executive Order,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project.  “The President will have a hard time keeping those promises if the Senate can’t even vote on whether to confirm the highly qualified people he picked to rebuild enforcement and advocate for environmental justice at EPA. “

Fred Krupp, President of EDF, said: “Swift Senate confirmation of these highly qualified nominees, David Uhlmann and Dr. Carlton Waterhouse, is critical to ensure that the EPA is able to deliver on its mission to protect the health of communities across the country, promote environmental justice, and ensure a safe and healthy environment for future generations.”

Abigail Dillen, President of Earthjustice, said: “We need strong leadership now to address environmental injustice, rise to the climate crisis, and strengthen our environmental laws and their enforcement. The Senate must confirm Dr. Carlton Waterhouse and Professor David Uhlmann now. They are critical appointees needed to lead and oversee EPA hazardous waste cleanup and reinvigorate EPA enforcement. Politics should not get in the way of confirming critical leadership required to restore the health of our communities and hold polluters accountable.”

Dr. Carlton Waterhouse, who holds both a law degree and a Ph.D. in social ethics, served as chief counsel of EPA’s Office of General Counsel in Washington, D.C., and also in EPA’s Office of Regional Counsel in Atlanta. He brings exceptional dedication to protecting public health and the environment, which he has demonstrated throughout his nearly thirty-year career. Dr. Waterhouse would serve as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), which oversees toxic waste management and cleanup programs including Superfund and coal ash.

David Uhlmann’s nomination last year won enthusiastic endorsement from a bipartisan coalition that included former Republican and Democratic political appointees at the EPA and Justice Department. 

“For many years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed that weakening enforcement of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other environmental laws enacted by Congress jeopardizes public health and our natural resources,” reads the letter to the Senate on Uhlmann’s behalf written by the Environmental Integrity Project on behalf of 55 environmental organizations and 144 former EPA managers and staff.  “Confirming Mr. Uhlmann’s appointment as EPA’s enforcement chief would signal a welcome return to this bipartisan tradition.”

The letter in support of David Uhlmann noted that, between the 2018 and 2021 fiscal years, the number of EPA inspections, criminal investigations, civil cases initiated or concluded, defendants charged with environmental crimes, and amounts violators paid for cleanup declined about 50 percent when average annual results are compared to 2002-2017.

The allies argued that Uhlmann is badly needed to turn that trend around, and included in their letter EPA data detailing the sharp decline.

EPA Enforcement 2002-2017 vs. 2018-2021

Category 2002-2017* Annual Average 2018-2021 Annual Average % Change
Civil Inspections 18,755 10,110 -46%
Criminal Investigations 326 167 -49%
Civil Cases Referred to Justice Department 237 102 -57%
Civil Judicial/Administrative Case Conclusions 3,392 1,673 -51%
Criminal Defendants Charged 240 110 -54%
Enforcement Results (in $ millions)
Civil Penalties 750 480 -36%
Civil Penalties, outliers removed 188 135 -28%
Civil Supplemental Environmental Projects 51.5 20 -61%
Injunctive Relief (civil cases) 11,675 5,020 -57%
Injunctive Relief (civil cases), outliers removed 9,910 5,020 -49%
Superfund Cleanup (funds recovered) 1,759 1,163 -34%
Criminal Fines and Restitutions 407 70 -83%
Criminal Fines and Restitutions, outliers removed 138 70 -49%
Court Ordered Environmental Projects 601 2 -100%
Court Ordered Environmental Projects, outliers removed 135 2 -99%

Source: Annual enforcement reports published by the EPA every fiscal year. All dollar amounts have been inflation adjusted to 2021 dollars. Data for court ordered environmental projects is from 2004 to 2017.

The organizations that signed the letter urging the confirmation of David Uhlmann include the following:

Air Alliance Houston

Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN)

Beyond Plastics

Breathe Project

California Communities Against Toxics

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Biological Diversity

Change the Chamber*Lobby for Climate

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Chesapeake Climate Action Fund

Chesapeake Legal Alliance

Clean Air Council

Clean Water Action

Commission Shift

Conservation Law Foundation

Defend our Future

Dunkard Creek Association, Inc.

Earthjustice

East End Neighbors

EDF

EMeRGE

Environment America

Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Law & Policy Center

EPN/EPA Retired Director of the Office of Science and Technology

Green The Church

Greenpeace USA

Healthy Gulf

League of Conservation Voters

Louisiana Environmental Action Network

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

National Environmental Law Center

National Wildlife Federation

Natural Resources Defense Council

Organization

Patuxent Riverkeeper Center

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Rio Grande International Study Center

Save Our Springs Alliance

Sierra Club

T.E.J.A.S.

Texas Campaign for the Environment/TCE Fund

Verna Harrison Associates, LLC

Waterway Advocates

West Virginia Environmental Council

For a copy of the letter on David Uhlmann, click here.

For a copy of the letter on Dr. Waterhouse, click here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 20-year-old nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.

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