WEVTU reported last June that a group of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee whistleblowers accused the agency of misconduct. Shortly after, a Congressional committee requested the General Accounting Office investigate the allegations.

EPA now apparently has taken the position that the best defense is a good offense. A Dec. 28 Wall Street Journal story reports that the EPA's Office of Inspector General released findings of audits that heap blame on its own regional offices as well as states that “have allowed many significant violators of federal and state regulations to escape inspection and sanctions for years.”

An example of questionable activity involving a regional and state EPA office was brought to WEVTU's attention in 1998.

An investigation of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's (IEPA) vehicle emissions testing (I/M) program by the Chicago Tribune found that the I/M program effectiveness in 1995 had been drastically reduced compared with 1994.

IEPA cut back on both the number of vehicles tested as well as the test methods, resulting in a drop in the number of vehicles failing the initial test by about 70%, i.e., from 313,687 in 1994 to 96,559 in 1995. The opportunity for meaningful repairs to polluting vehicles dropped accordingly.

The EPA's Region #5 Office in Chicago, however, confirmed to WEVTU early last month that coincidental with the IEPA's 70% cut, the EPA's calculated VOC reduction attributed to the altered IEPA I/M program was increased from 30,000 tons/day in 1994 to 38,000 tons/day, a 26% improvement. In other words, increased credit was given for a greatly reduced program, thereby permitting Illinois to impose less control on non-vehicle sources of pollution.

A spokesman for EPA's Region #5 office says the increased credit of 38,000 tons/day VOC has remained in effect for the four-year period 1995 through 1998. The IEPA, however, has continued vehicle emissions test effectiveness at the reduced level, but plans to start enhanced dynamometer testing this month — for which the EPA's calculated VOC reduction increases to 52,000 tons/day. The start of dyno testing has been delayed, however, for unknown reasons.

The Chicago Tribune investigation came to the conclusion that dyno testing will likely do no more good than the 1994 program. Regardless, the IEPA will get a 73% increase in credits for vehicle-related VOC control. This raises the question of whether a federal/state deal was made. Some observers believe the quid pro quo to be Illinois' adoption of the largest I/M-240 program in the U.S., a pet project of the U.S. EPA many other states rejected.

In an attempt to determine the true effectiveness of I/M programs, Congress authorized a study of the subject in October 1997, but the EPA was able to block funding — until now — for the study earmarked for the National Academy of Sciences.

As for the actions of the EPA Regional Offices in general, the Wall Street Journal account of the audits by the EPA's Inspector General gives a number of examples where the EPA Regional Offices have gone easy on state efforts to control pollution but now are cracking down on state compliance measures.

The ill will generated between the U.S. EPA and state EPA agencies is illustrated by the Journal story which says, “William Becker, who heads the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, based in Washington, blamed the EPA's 10 regional offices, which he said are making an ‘inconsistent application of the program’ in their dealings with states and that some states are ‘livid’ about the inspector general's findings.”

Another example reported by the Journal is Keith Michaels, head of the Arkansas Dept. of Pollution Control and Ecology, who reportedly said “his office was assured by the EPA regional office that monthly reports of pollution violations were unnecessary, but then the EPA's inspectors came in, berating Arkansas for not filing timely reports.”

Particularly severe is the EPA Inspector General's audit position that the agency's “regional offices make deals with state agencies that violate national enforcement standards.”

Indeed, truck diesel engine makers recently learned the hard way (see WEVTU — Nov. 15, '98, p.1), that the U.S. EPA can seem to be going one way for many years and then abruptly turn without warning on an unsuspecting interest with massive public relations fury and fines. Many wonder if this is what Congress intended when forming the EPA and whether the current investigation by the General Accounting Office will determine what is needed to make sure good practices and good science dominate U.S. environmental protection policy and its execution.