Industries in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5, which includes Indiana, are increasingly violating their clean water permits, while enforcement is decreasing, a new report says.
That means industries in the Midwest are dumping more pollutants into the water than they are allowed to without being penalized.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center report found that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget cuts and understaffing contributed to a 62% increase in Clean Water Act noncompliance in EPA’s region 5 compared to the previous five years.
The report’s authors found an increase in the number of major facilities identified by the EPA as being in “significant noncompliance,” the most serious level of violations.
Those violations are also less likely to result in monetary penalties for noncompliant companies. The report found a downward trend in Region 5 cases initiated and cases concluded by the EPA between 2012 and 2019. Data also showed both the number of civil penalties and the total amount of money companies had to pay because of those penalties dropped since 2016.
The EPA told the Indy Star that it did not receive a copy of the report, so it could not comment on it.
The agency did say that the EPA Region 5 “maintains a robust compliance assurance and enforcement program,” and that the EPA’s enforcement program is concerned with “outcomes, not outputs.”
Instances of noncompliance cited in the report may increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management have adopted “enforcement discretion” policies that allow companies to break some environmental laws if they claim that noncompliance was due to COVID-19.