EPA's strategic goals face obstacles
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April 14, 2014
EPA's strategic goals face obstacles

Addressing climate change and improving air quality top EPA’s five primary goals for the next 5 years, according to the Agency’s FY 2014–2018 Strategic Plan.  In her introduction to the plan, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy cites climate change as “the biggest challenge of our generation and those to follow,” a characterization that is in line with the high-stakes commitment President Obama has made to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. 

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In the strategic plan, the EPA says it intends to pursue this target in two ways.  First, it will exercise its clear authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate GHG emissions from motor vehicles, as well as its disputed power to regulate GHG emissions from stationary sources.  Second, it will pursue energy-efficiency improvements for homes, buildings, and appliances.  A related approach discussed in the strategy is to “incorporate sustainability principles into regulatory, enforcement, incentive-based, and partnership programs.”

Other goals

Following climate change and air quality, the Agency’s four strategic goals are:

  • Protecting America’s waters,
  • Cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development,
  • Ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution, and
  • Protecting human health and the environment by enforcing laws and ensuring compliance.

These are largely consistent with the goals the EPA has expressed in previous strategic plans and, as in the past, their achievement will depend on available funding, which has been shrinking in recent years, and the willingness of Congress to amend old environmental laws.  For example, in addition to the unclear authority the EPA possesses under the CAA to impose GHG limits on stationary sources, the Agency’s ability to meet its chemical safety goals is constricted by the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  As in years past, the EPA makes it clear that a modern program to address the risks posed by existing chemicals in commerce is virtually impossible without reform of TSCA. 

Also, congressional failure to improve its vague definition of waters of the United States has led to the EPA proposing its own, very broad definition.  Should the EPA finalize its proposal, the Agency will likely be spending a considerable portion of its limited budget fighting legal challenges by those who believe the Agency should protect only those navigable waters used for interstate commerce, as specified in the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Administrative enhancements

The current strategy also contains several new managerial aspirations intended to bring some of EPA’s aged administrative practices up to date with current technology.  For example, E-Enterprise is a planned $60 million initiative to replace outdated paper reporting with integrated e-reporting systems using technology and shared IT services, while encouraging greater transparency and compliance.

“Similar to online banking, the new single portal system will allow regulated businesses to register and receive tailored information based on their unique needs,” says the EPA.  “This electronic system will facilitate commercial entities’ permit applications and emissions reporting as well as provide information on applicable regulations and compliance status.”

Next Generation Compliance

A related improvement is called Next Generation Compliance, which the Agency says will result in regulations and permits that are easier to implement, with a goal of improved compliance and environmental outcomes.  One objective here is to relieve federal and state inspectors of the impossible task of policing millions of regulated facilities by writing rules “with compliance built in.” 


The EPA has already tested this idea in its rulemaking covering air emissions for oil and gas (O&G) producers.  In this case, the Agency’s intent was to certify the air pollution control equipment manufactured by specific companies.  The manufacturers would inform the EPA which O&G operators purchased the approved equipment.  To check compliance, regulators would simply compare manufacturers’ sales reports with the equipment installation reports of operators.  In addition to making life easier for environmental agencies, this approach would provide regulated sectors with more compliance certainty, says the EPA.

 EPA’s FY 2014–2018 Strategic Plan

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