EPA Struggles to Keep Up With Its Growing Burdens, Report Finds

Chemical assessments are a vital way for the Environmental Protection Agency to warn the public about potential health hazards from many substances, but the agency is falling way behind on its work.

A wide-ranging new report from the Government Accountability Office found that the EPA has gotten so backed up that certain chemicals have gone for more than a decade without an evaluation from the agency. As the Center for Public Integrity notes, an assessment of dioxin has been pending for 19 years, while a formaldehyde evaluation has lingered for 13.

In other areas, too, the GAO questions whether the EPA can keep up with the nation’s needs. The report says the Superfund hazardous waste cleanup effort, which was launched three decades ago, can’t come up with reliable estimates of how much money it will need to finish its work because the agency is hampered by poor and incomplete data.

Water quality is another major concern. The report cited the deterioration of the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s premier watersheds, along with the problem of aging water treatment plans and other decaying infrastructure.  The GAO estimates that it could cost up to $1.2 trillion, through 2029, to adequately upgrade the nation’s water infrastructure.

On top of these longstanding issues, the EPA is taking on an emerging role — though one that increasingly is coming under fire in Congress — in combating climate change. Yet, the GAO report notes, the EPA’s  budget has only kept pace with inflation since 2000.

The report’s recommendations, however, are standard fare: enhanced oversight, improved information for regulatory decision-making and better coordination with other agencies.

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