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Clean Air Act Enforcement Inadequate in Idaho, says EPA Inspector General

Release Date: 10/6/1998
Contact Information: Gil Haselberger
(206) 553-1094 or (800) 424-4372

98-52 - - - - - - - - - - October 6, 1998


The Northwest regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have come in for harsh criticism over the way the Clean Air Act has been enforced in Idaho, according to a final report from the EPA Inspector General. The principal findings of the report:
  • DEQ allowed air polluters in Idaho to remain out of compliance with the Clean Air Act for unreasonable lengths of time and, when it took enforcement action, DEQ imposed fines not in proportion to the severity of the violations and failed to take into account the economic benefits the violators enjoyed through delayed noncompliance with state and federal environmental laws.
  • The EPA Northwest regional office did not insist that DEQ more aggressively enforce the Clean Air Act authority EPA had delegated to DEQ.

Chuck Clarke, EPA’s regional administrator in Seattle, received the report today.

“My staff and I accept the findings of the Inspector General,” Clarke said. “The report identifies many shortcomings in air enforcement in Idaho, and it's clear EPA needs to make -- and is making -- changes in our role as overseers of the state-run program.”

Clarke said that EPA has given DEQ the latitude DEQ felt it needed to administer Clean Air Act programs in Idaho the way DEQ wanted to do it: with more emphasis on compliance assistance, and less reliance on traditional enforcement.

“ It's important that we allow the state latitude,” Clarke noted, “but -- as the Inspector General rightly points out – the state must at least satisfy minimum EPA requirements.” Clarke explained that the Idaho air enforcement program has been operating under a framework established several years ago by an agreement in which EPA authorized DEQ to administer the Clean Air Act in Idaho.

“EPA firmly believes the air program in Idaho should be run by DEQ,” Clarke said. “DEQ can do a better job than EPA because they have more personnel than we do. EPA has only four full-time employees assigned to inspection and enforcement of clean-air laws, and they must cover the four states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho) in EPA’s Northwest regional jurisdiction.

“EPA Northwest regional staff members regard the Idaho inspectors as competent professionals who accurately identify violations and report them,” Clarke said, “but some of the follow-through necessary to ensure compliance has been lacking.

“We are already at work trying to improve enforcement of air pollution control regulations in Idaho, and we will be issuing EPA citations to a number of parties in Idaho with long-standing violations against whom DEQ has not taken action or where action was inadequate.”

Clarke said the soon-to-be issued citations from EPA are an attempt by EPA to address a backlog of enforcement cases. EPA is also reviewing a number of other outstanding cases to see if enforcement action is necessary. Said Clarke:
      "Both EPA and DEQ expect compliance with clean-air laws, and the difference between us is EPA’s insistence on prompt enforcement to remove the economic benefit a source of air pollution might enjoy by deliberate delays in reaching compliance. As long as a manufacturer of a product avoids the costs of installing and operating pollution control equipment, he has a competitive advantage over all the others in the industry who have met their environmental obligations.”
      "By and large, although air quality standards are being met throughout Idaho, there's only so much the air can handle. Voluntary compliance by itself is not enough --- it must be augmented by a strong enforcement program. That's the best assurance that exceedances of clean air standards won't cut into the ability of Idaho to accommodate new industry and commercial development. It's not just clean air that's at stake --- it's also making sure that Idaho does not miss out on future opportunities for continued economic growth.”