A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found most major industrial violators of water pollution standards seldom face punishment, The Washington Post reports today.
Citing the internal EPA assessment, the newspaper reported about a quarter of the largest U.S. industrial plants and water treatment facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at any one time.
The study said only a fraction of the violators faced enforcement actions and when formal disciplinary actions were taken, fewer than half resulted in fines, which averaged about $6,000.
The 50-page study obtained by The Washington Post also found that half the serious offenders exceeded pollution limits for toxic substances by more than 100 percent, the newspaper said.
The Post said the study showed some companies and municipalities have illegally discharged toxic chemicals or biological waste into waterways for years without government sanctions.
An EPA spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the report.
The Washington Post reported that the EPA study, completed in February, emphasized the years 1999 to 2001 and marked the first time the agency had assessed federal and state efforts to enforce a law enacted 30 years ago to protect U.S. rivers and streams.
J.P. Suarez, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, acknowledged problems with enforcement and said the agency must do a better job of monitoring cases, the newspaper reported.
"I wouldn't declare failure yet," Suarez was quoted as saying.
Suarez also was quoted as saying the EPA was trying to be more aggressive in monitoring state enforcement of the Clean Water Act by creating "watch lists" of the most flagrant violations.
"Obviously, what we want to do is make sure where there is a significant noncompliance that we understand what the cause is and, if enforcement is appropriate, that someone takes action," he said.