FY 2018 EPA Enforcement Results Show Continued Overall Decrease

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FY 2018 EPA Enforcement Results Show Continued Overall Decrease

By: George Colvin, CPG, CHMM

On February 8, 2019, U.S EPA (EPA) announced its annual enforcement and compliance results for fiscal year (FY) 2018, ending on September 30.   The FY 2018 report is the first enforcement report based entirely on data for the Trump administration.  The prior report (FY 2017) included the last quarter of the Obama administration and the first three quarters of the Trump administration.  The FY 2018 report is presented online in two ways – as a story map (whatever the hell that means) and as a series of graphs and interactive maps, with limited interpretation provided.  

As most of us expected, the FY 2018 report shows a drop in many of the enforcement metrics, including the number of facility inspections.  Unlike most of the metrics presented in the report, the number of facility inspections and evaluations conducted in a given year is relatively free of spin and is the easiest of the metrics to track and understand.  This is due in part to the fact that facility inspections do not take years to conduct and conclude as major enforcement actions often do.  In FY 2018, EPA conducted approximately 10,600 inspections/evaluations, a reduction of 13 percent over the previous year.  It should be noted, however, that this decrease in the number of inspections/evaluations began in FY 2013 and has continued each year since then.  Results of other metrics include:

  • The number of environmental crime defendants charged dropped for the third straight year to the lowest number since at least 2008 (earliest data provided in the report) while the number of environmental crime cases opened increased slightly during 2018
  • The number of both initiations and conclusions of civil enforcement cases dropped in 2018 for the second year in a row to their lowest levels since at least 2008 
  • Estimated value of administrative and civil injunctive relief fell to its lowest value since at least 2008
  • Administrative and civil judicial penalties assessed (in dollars) fell dramatically from 2016 and 2017 values to the lowest amount since at least 2008
  • Number of facilities which self-disclosed violations increased by 47% over 2017 numbers. 

On the cleanup front, FY 2018 saw a decrease by nearly two thirds in dollars committed to private party enforcement commitments to Superfund site investigation and cleanup (from $1.2B to $0.45B). 

Although no single metric can accurately represent the administration’s enforcement program, when taken as a whole, an overall trend in continued decreasing enforcement actions is visible.  The increase in self-disclosed violations, on the other hand, demonstrates the current administration’s shift toward compliance assistance, consistent with the 2018 rebranding of the National Enforcement Initiatives program to National Compliance Initiatives.  Given the Trump Administration’s budget plans for EPA, it is likely that these trends will continue for at least another year. 

Published in Cox-Colvin’s March 2019 Focus on the Environment newsletter.

George H. Colvin is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years of consulting experience. Much of his experience has focused on RCRA Corrective Action, RCRA closure, and groundwater investigation, monitoring, and cleanup. He holds a BS in Geology from Ohio University and MS in geology and hydrology from Vanderbilt University. He is a Certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists, a registered geologist in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager.