It’s all the rage in Washington these days to talk about “EPA overreach.” But I’m wondering if a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office is describing something that might be best known as “EPA underreach.”
The new GAO report looks at what steps EPA has taken over the last 15 years to regulate new contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It concludes:
Systemic limitations in EPA’s implementation of requirements for determining whether additional drinking water contaminants warrant regulation have impeded the agency’s progress in assuring the public of safe drinking water.
EPA’s selection of contaminants for regulatory determination in 2003 and 2008 was driven by data availability–not consideration of public health concern. EPA does not have criteria for identifying contaminants of greatest public health concern and based most of its final determinations to not regulate 20 contaminants on the rationale of little or no occurrence of the contaminants in public water systems.
Moreover, EPA’s testing program for unregulated contaminants–which can provide key data to inform regulatory determinations–has fallen short in both the number of contaminants tested and the utility of the data provided because of management decisions and program delays. In addition, EPA has not developed policies or guidance for interpreting the amendments’ broad statutory criteria for selecting contaminants and making regulatory determinations, increasing the potential for inconsistent decision making.
A news release from congressional Democrats was a little more pointed:
Today Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey and Senator Barbara Boxer released a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not made a determination to regulate any new drinking water contaminants, with one very recent exception, since 1996 when the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended. This comes at a time when there has been growing evidence about the threats to public health from unregulated drinking water contaminants.