Climate-Change Skeptics |in Senate Rant at EPA

     WASHINGTON (CN) — An Environmental Protection Agency official bristled Wednesday at criticism from Republican senators that the agency uses heavy-handed enforcement tactics.
     “Rather than assisting with compliance, the EPA simply chooses to impose aggressive, and at times, unreasonable penalties using questionable enforcement methods,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said at the opening of an Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing.
     During a sometimes hostile line of questioning, some members of the Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight subcommittee accused the EPA of punishing small businesses and farmers.
     “The Obama EPA … has shown itself to be heavy-handed and out of touch with rural communities that grow our food and produce our energy,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., argued in a written statement.
     Inhofe said these tactics are particularly evident in the enforcement program under Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.
     Giles denied these allegations outright, asserting that the EPA maintains compliance assistance and support programs for small businesses that new federal environmental regulations will affect.
     That includes compliance guides that “explain in plain English the actions that a small entity must take to comply,” she said. In addition, the agency helps operate 15 web-based assistance centers and staffs topic-specific hotlines, she said.
     The agency often works out enforcement actions through negotiations, she said.
     Inhofe, a climate-change skeptic, focused his questioning on information requests the agency uses under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act for companies it investigates. That information can form the basis of criminal or civil actions if the agency finds environmental violations.
     Inhofe and Rounds suggested that the EPA uses the letters to help develop regulations, and said the agency is increasingly using them to target companies that are not under investigation, but that might have information about other active investigations – something the law does not allow the agency to do.
     “Isn’t this a backdoor way of requiring the industry to change its operations without a transparent, public rule making process of notice and comment?” Rounds asked.
     Giles said Section 114 gives the agency authority to collect information to determine if a company is in compliance with federal environmental laws. The agency does not operate outside of what the law allows, she said.
     “It’s not for the purpose of rulemaking, it’s for determining if there’s a pollution problem that requires enforcement attention” she said.
     Rounds said the requests are unfairly burdensome and costly, and leave some companies subject to additional penalties if they do not accurately comply within the EPA’s timeframe. Companies have no choice but to pay, he said, when they cannot afford to fight it in court.
     Later in the hearing Inhofe expressed concern that the 114 requests are being used to “crucify” oil and gas companies to monitor and curb methane emissions before the agency has even issued a methane rule.
     “It appears that your office stepped up enforcement of the VOC emission requirements against the oil and gas sector… as a backdoor effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” Inhofe said, abbreviating volatile organic compound. He asked Giles if she had a mandate from the Obama administration to step up enforcement actions against utilities and the oil and gas industry to help meet the emissions aspirations of the Paris climate deal.
     Giles said the EPA received no such mandate, and noted that the VOC emissions enforcements on the oil and gas industry were derived from old laws, and intended to deal with the formation of ozone.
     One ally of the EPA at the hearing, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., touted the agency as “a tough cop on the environmental beat,” citing as an example Volkswagen’s recent $14.7 billion settlement for cheating emissions tests.
     He praised the agency for its enforcement actions, which he said have extracted $2 billion from companies to clean up Superfund sites, $7 billion in investments for pollution control and cleanup, and $4 billion in court-ordered environmental projects stemming from criminal prosecutions.
     Markey also rebuked budget cuts to the agency, which have decreased its enforcement and compliance work by 17 percent.
     “Your responsibilities have not decreased, so you’ve been asked to do more with a lot less over the last six years, is that correct?” he asked.
     “Yes, we’re struggling with budgets,” Giles said.
     Markey also inquired about the resources disadvantaged communities like Flint, Mich., which has lead-poisoned water, will need to head off and respond to environmental catastrophes.
     “We totally agree that the overburdened communities in America require our attention,” Giles said. “And they need to know we have their backs.”
     The EJ2020 action agenda will help the agency incorporate environmental justice in all of its activities that will help lead to better outcomes for overburdened communities, she said.
     Toward the end of the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, expressed concern about armed EPA agents who he said looked more like an army than environmental bureaucrats during a plaster mining raid in Chicken in 2013.
     Sullivan said the EPA has not shown it needs weapons, and said he wants to disarm the agency.
     Giles countered that EPA agents arresting people for serious environmental crimes have unfortunately been attacked before, and firearms have been found in these locations.

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