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 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, 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)
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
Conservation Law Foundation
Defend our Future
Dunkard Creek Association, Inc.
East End Neighbors
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Law & Policy Center
EPN/EPA Retired Director of the Office of Science and Technology
Green The Church
League of Conservation Voters
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper
National Environmental Law Center
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Patuxent Riverkeeper Center
Potomac Riverkeeper Network
Rio Grande International Study Center
Save Our Springs Alliance
Texas Campaign for the Environment/TCE Fund
Verna Harrison Associates, LLC
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.