A New Chapter for Enforcement at the EPA? 

Timeline of enforcement at the EPA from A People’s EPA’s new history of EPA enforcement. 

By Leif Fredrickson

A New Chapter for Enforcement at the EPA? 

A People’s EPA releases a new history of enforcement at the EPA to show how the agency has changed over the years and provide context for the latest news coming out of Biden’s EPA.

This week, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative’s (EDGI’s) latest project, A People’s EPA, publishes a new collection of interviews, interactive visualizations, short essays, data, and documents about enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Without enforcement, laws and regulations that protect us from pollution and hazards are meaningless. Enforcement is where accountability and corrective measures happen. Where companies and other regulated entities actually do something in real life: limit pollution, curtail toxic releases, clean up hazardous waste, monitor and report emissions – and so on.

So enforcement is crucial. The EPA is not the only agency that enforces national environmental laws: States and tribal governments actually do most of the enforcement in terms of the sheer number of cases. But the EPA takes on the biggest cases and the most complex cases. And it is, as administrator William Ruckelshaus once said, “the gorilla in the closet”: the agency that steps in if state or tribal enforcement is inadequate. In other words, it is the institution that makes the threat of enforcement by these smaller governments credible. 

Despite its importance, enforcement is an area that often flies under the radar in environmental politics. It is hard for the public to track enforcement, to provide input about enforcement, and to understand the complicated legal aspects of cases. Our hope is that A People’s EPA can provide context, tools, and data that can better help the public – journalists, activists, students, policy-makers, and others – to understand this facet of the EPA.

APE’s website includes a number of unique resources, including:

  • Long-term data sets of key enforcement metrics from the EPA (inspections, cases, fines, compliance costs and so on), which are downloadable and fully referenced.
  • Interactive graphs of these key enforcement metrics from the EPA over time.
  • Original oral history interviews about enforcement at the EPA.
  • A timeline of the history of enforcement at the EPA.
  • Curated documents about enforcement at the EPA.
  • An introductory essay and primer on enforcement at the EPA.

LINK TO APE’S HISTORY OF ENFORCEMENT AT EPA: https://apeoplesepa.org/home/enforcement

CONTACT: Curators of A People’s EPA (APE) are available to answer media, academic, or community questions about the history of EPA enforcement and/or how to navigate the information provided on the APE enforcement page. Please contact EDGI communications coordinator Shannan Lenke Stoll at ShannanStoll.edgi@gmail.com, and she’ll direct your questions to the APE team.