Susan Bodine, an attorney with significant experience on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) at the agency. She is likely to get a friendly audience tomorrow when she appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about the future of OECA. After all, she's worked closely with everyone on the panel, and there remain some aspects of federal policymaking that still proceed in a ceremonious fashion, even in Trump's America.
But were it not for a scheduling overlap with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' much anticipated testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, citizens and communities around the country might have focused more attention on Bodine's hearing. Her future office is where the rubber hits the road regarding the environmental and public health protections that we need from EPA.
Here are some questions and concerns that we hope senators will raise with Bodine:
- Attorney General Sessions announced last week that DOJ attorneys should no longer pursue settlement agreements with corporate lawbreakers that demand payment to nongovernmental third parties. It's a major policy reversal that could reduce the number of forward-thinking environmental improvement projects that create good jobs and build resilient communities. What is Susan Bodine's thinking on this policy? Does she see opportunity for the programs she will oversee to promote these win-win solutions?
- Rumors have been swirling for months about the possibility that OECA will be dismantled and enforcement staff will be relocated into individual program offices. Can Bodine commit to defending OECA as an institution, given the efficiencies and enforcement opportunities that come from its current setup?
- OECA plays a critical oversight role for environmental enforcement and partners with states implementing congressionally mandated projects. For instance, EPA directs the Chesapeake Bay Program, doing the essential job of coordinating and overseeing the Bay TMDL. CPR and our allies know that the significant progress made restoring Bay health in the last decade is the result of EPA and its state partners demanding that enforceable permits for wastewater treatment plants are linked to TMDL pollution reduction targets. But other sources of pollution from industrial agriculture and urban runoff still threaten clean water for communities across the Bay region, especially in Pennsylvania. What will Bodine do to push Pennsylvania to do its fair share to help clean the Chesapeake Bay and to hold all states accountable for upholding their duties to enforce our environmental laws?
- Sally Yates played a key role in aligning DOJ's environmental crimes efforts with enforcement programs at the Department of Labor, recognizing that the companies that were cheating on environmental protections were likely cheating on worker health and safety protections, and vice versa. Going after these low-road companies makes a lot of sense, both in terms of protecting people and leveling the playing field for the companies that are investing in programs and equipment to do the right thing. Environmental crimes cases bubble up from OECA investigations, so Bodine's commitment to the Worker Endangerment Initiative is a critical question. Will Bodine continue this trend of cooperative enforcement, or will she isolate EPA's work?
- Yates also pursued enhanced accountability for environmental crimes with a memo to DOJ attorneys that demanded a harder look at individual responsibility within corporations. Again, pursuing these cases requires help from OECA staff. It looks like DOJ may be walking back this policy under Jeff Sessions' leadership. How will Bodine respond – keep the magnifying glass on corporate management or treat them with kid gloves?
- EPA is adopting new approaches to regulating chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). At the tail end of the Obama administration, EPA proposed rules regulating dangerous uses of the toxic chemicals TCE, methylene chloride, and n-methylpyrollidone. Congress set deadlines for additional regulation of existing chemicals under TSCA reform legislation signed into law last summer. Meanwhile, EPA is setting more enforceable limits on new chemicals as they come to market. How will Bodine beef up OECA's capacity to enforce TSCA regulations and orders, an area that has been historically neglected?
The underlying theme to all of these questions is the rule of law. Environmental harms are often hard to see in the here and now, and that means the head of OECA must be a resolute defender of the norms set by Congress. If Bodine shifts OECA's focus away from holding corporate polluters and other scofflaws accountable for the harms they cause to our communities and our health, and instead heads toward a compliance assistance model, responsible companies may get the help they need in following the law, but lawbreakers could get a free pass and continue putting our health and environment in danger. That's the exact opposite of what we need from OECA.
Top photo by the Natural Resources Defense Council, used under a Creative Commons license.