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Inspector General Releases Report on New Mexico's Environmental Enforcement

Release Date: 3/19/1998
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

The New Mexico Environmental Department is using a federal Inspector General's audit process to improve the state's environmental enforcement program.

In most states, including New Mexico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delegated permitting and enforcement of the Clean Air Act to state environmental agencies. EPA's Office of the Inspector General has begun audits in a number of states to determine if state agencies are correctly enforcing provisions of these delegated air programs. These audits identify both problems and more effective methods to protect public health and our environment.

"This audit is an excellent example of how the EPA's Office of the Inspector General effectively pinpoints problems and works with state agencies to find constructive solutions," EPA Acting Regional Administrator Jerry Clifford said.

States with a low number of facilities identified as significant violators in relation to their total number of major source facilities were selected to be audited. Significant violators are major source facilities that have violated their air permits. States are required to report significant violators to EPA within one month of the violation. Any facility that emits more than 100 tons a year of at least one of 188 specified pollutants is considered a major source.

The Inspector General's audit found that New Mexico, lacking goals to inspect all major air pollution facilities, could not identify and report all significant violators, and the state's insufficient resources caused delays in inspecting and reporting serious polluters. The audit also noted that New Mexico's legal department was understaffed and that the state had problems with timeliness in taking enforcement actions. In addition, the audit mentioned that the state should provide more accurate and complete information in its reports to EPA, Congress and the public.

The audit also noted that Region 6 was not effective in using the state's information to identify serious violators nor did the Region sufficiently monitor the state's progress in returning facilities to compliance. EPA concurs with the findings in the audit and is making changes in line with the Inspector General's recommendations. For example, the Region is currently providing oversight and assistance for an enforcement action at a facility in New Mexico. This action, coupled with EPA pursuing enforcement on one of the state's long- time significant violators, will allow New Mexico to focus more resources on that one facility and contribute to the successful resolution of both enforcement actions. To improve communications with the state, Region 6 will send written inquires regarding the status of significant violators that are over 135 days old. This will formalize the status of specific cases and convey expectations before the 180 day "Timely and Appropriate" period ends.

"When serious polluters are not identified or enforcement actions are not timely, the continued pollution could lead to a higher potential for harm. To assure that public health and the environment are protected, Region 6 will move quickly and decisively, in partnership with New Mexico, to correct the problems identified in the audit," Mr. Clifford said.