Ag Policy Blog

Is EPA's Influence Waning in the Countryside?

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Rural America viewed the waters of the United States, or WOTUS rule, as the poster child of an out-of-control U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bent on expanding its reach onto private property.

The rule is held up as an example of EPA largesse in general, that in part, is seen by many political pundits to be one of the reasons Donald Trump won the vote in the countryside.

President-elect Donald Trump's broad election victory in rural states fueled largely by his promises to slash EPA's influence on farms and ranches, would on the surface suggest rural America had enough of the agency's expanding reach into their lives.

Enforcement data released by EPA in recent weeks, however, shows agency budget cuts and personnel losses in the past five years has made it more difficult for the agency to enforce regulations.

Even had the WOTUS rule taken full effect it's difficult to say if the agency would have adequate staff to fully enforce the rule.

EPA is on track to have its lowest number of criminal prosecutions as a result of agency investigations in more than 20 years, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University.

According to U.S. Department of Justice data during the first 11 months of 2016 there were 81 new prosecutions resulting from EPA investigations- on pace to hit 88 by year's end. Although much has been made about the Obama administration's seemingly unchecked regulatory push, the 2016 pace is far below the 182 EPA-related prosecutions in 2011. Syracuse found the number of EPA prosecutions peaked at 198 during the Clinton administration in 1998.

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However, the Obama administration is the most prolific in history when it comes to the number of pages of federal regulations generated by all government agencies in the past eight years.

Back in November a Competitive Enterprise Institute blog, http://bit.ly/…, ushered in a daunting number -- 81,640 -- an all-time high number of pages of regulations posted in the Federal Register in 2016.

"No one knows what the future holds, but at a pace of well over 1,000 pages weekly, the Federal Register could easily top 90,000 pages this year," the blog said.

According to the CEI the Obama administration is responsible for seven of the top 10 federal register page counts in history, with the other three slots held by the George W. Bush administration.

Trump's nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head EPA would suggest the agency's influence is likely to continue to decline in the coming years.

Budget cuts have led EPA to cut back on inspections, according to EPA's recently released enforcement data.

In 2016 the agency conducted more than 13,500 inspections. That number has fallen significantly since 2012 when nearly 20,000 EPA inspections were conducted, according to an agency report, http://bit.ly/….

"As EPA's budget has declined, the total number of inspections conducted by EPA has declined as well," the agency said in the report. "EPA continues to pursue additional means of gathering information about facility compliance, to supplement our on the ground inspections."

According to EPA data, the agency had a $7.47 billion enacted budget in the first year of the Obama administration and employed 16,916 workers. In 2016 EPA's budget was about $8.14 billion and the agency's workforce had shrunk to 15,376.

As a result of budget sequestration measures, the EPA saw its 2012 budget slashed from about $8.45 billion to about $7.9 billion in 2013, and its workforce cut from 17,106 to 15,193. Though the agency's enacted budget jumped by about $300 million in 2014, EPA cut its workforce again down to 15,408. In 2015 EPA's workforce was hit its lowest level in 26 years, down to 14,725.

Though the EPA has seen budget cuts and workforce reductions at times during the past eight years, a DTN analysis found the agency's enacted budget dollars per agency employee has remained consistent.

In fact, in 46 years of EPA budgets in 22 of those budgets agency dollars budgeted in relation to the number of employees exceeded $413,000.

What's more, that spending level per employee has been maintained and even widened by EPA since 1998. So even though EPA has made workforce reductions at times, the funding level for agency programs has been fairly consistent.

Read more on EPA enforcement here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow me on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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Comments

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BDukowitz1375121425
12/29/2016 | 4:41 PM CST
Any one inquire as to how many of these rules and regulations are handed down to the states with a carrot on a string?