Posted on October 12, 2017 by David Uhlmann
The Trump administration has unleashed a withering assault on environmental protection efforts that seeks to roll back decades of bi-partisan efforts to provide clean air and water in the United States. Environmental groups and state attorneys general are challenging the EPA in court over its proposals to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and dozens of lesser-known regulatory programs. While those lawsuits have achieved some initial success, based on EPA’s failure to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, there is justifiable concern about the fate of EPA’s regulatory programs.
But less attention has been paid to a rollback buried in the EPA’s FY 2018 budget, which also might have devastating impacts: the proposal to end EPA funding of Superfund litigation by the Justice Department. Since 1987, the EPA has reimbursed the Justice Department for the cost of bringing Superfund cost recovery cases, with as much as a third of the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) budget devoted to Superfund work. (This year, ENRD was expecting about 20 percent of its funding to come from the EPA.) The cost-sharing arrangement is enormously beneficial to the Superfund program, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars of cost recovery every year in cases litigated by ENRD.
EPA’s effort to defund cost recovery litigation could lead to layoffs at ENRD, cripple the Superfund program, and undermine criminal and civil enforcement of the environmental laws. The proposal has all of the features of another Trump administration executive fiat that could fly under our collective radar. It deserves condemnation from everyone who cares about public health and the environment, as I explain in an October 4th New York Times op-ed entitled Undermining the Rule of Law at the EPA.