The Trump EPA is weighing a possible shuttering of EPA’s Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance (OECA) and returning civil enforcement to program offices, a move that sources say would significantly curb civil enforcement and be in line with Trump’s calls to limit the agency’s work — though its prospects are unclear.
The plan would to some extent echo a move that Oklahoma Attorney General (AG) Scott Pruitt (R), President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next EPA administrator, made to close his office’s Environmental Protection Unit in 2011. One environmentalist says that even the suggestion of shutting OECA “only confirms people’s very justified opposition to” Pruitt, and calls on senators to query Pruitt on the plan ahead of his Senate floor confirmation vote.
But some sources say that while top Trump transition team members might be pitching the idea, its chances for success are unclear at best. A second source says it is “plausible” that Pruitt could seek to dismantle OECA — created in the early 1990s — but is skeptical of how solid the purported effort is, given that Pruitt has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
A third source likens the idea of shuttering OECA to one by former EPA transition team leader Myron Ebell to radically slash EPA and give its main duties to states. The source notes that before EPA’s creation states had primary control over environmental protection but that was an abject failure, as illustrated by massive environmental problems of the day such as the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland. “We tried that, and that’s why in 1970 . . . they created an EPA with actual enforcement and oversight” authority,” the source says.
The plan to shift OECA to the program offices is not likely to affect criminal enforcement, these sources say, because those officials — even in the 10 EPA regions — report to headquarters, while some enforcement duties in the regional offices remain in the programs.
A source familiar with the plan says Trump EPA officials intend to “disassemble the enforcement office. They are going to take it, break it up and move it back into the program offices.”
The source notes that when EPA was first formed in 1970 it did not have an independent enforcement arm, but since then OECA’s role has become vital, and that removing it is highly problematic. The effort to execute such a move is “a big concern,” the source says, because of the potential for curbing civil enforcement actions.
OECA staff would presumably be shifted to program offices in areas they cover. The Office of Civil Enforcement within OECA manages an air, water, waste and chemical enforcement program, a national enforcement initiative program, a civil enforcement cases and settlement program, and a policy guidance and publications program. The Office of Criminal Enforcement runs all the criminal programs nationwide and is expected to remain in some form.
But other offices are housed within OECA and the Trump EPA’s plans for their future is unclear. These include the Office of Administration & Policy, the Office of Compliance, the Office of Environmental Justice, the Office of Federal Activities, the Federal Facilities Enforcement Office and the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement.
EPA’s press office in a statement to Inside EPA says, “EPA does not have a confirmed administrator and we cannot speculate on future plans for the agency.”