News Feature | June 27, 2023

Amid Consumer Trust Crisis, U.S. EPA Receives Bigger Budget, Additional Staff

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Following a sharp reduction in staff under President Trump, the Biden administration’s U.S. EPA has been focused on bolstering pollution prevention efforts. And now it is in line for a major boost toward that end, with a top agency official announcing that hundreds of personnel will be added following a sharp reduction in staff over recent years.

“In this fiscal year, over 200 of those positions will be restored,” EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator David Uhlmann recently told an audience gathered at the Federalist Society, according to E&E News. “So we expect to see more robust enforcement and compliance efforts at EPA going forward.”

As part of a larger effort to roll back federal environmental protections, including those around national waterways, the Trump administration saw more than 1,000 EPA workers depart the agency. When Biden took office, he immediately focused on establishing more robust environmental protection, but has so far struggled to strengthen the EPA. In particular, EPA Administrator Michael Regan has pointed to the agency’s failings around water infrastructure as one of the biggest obstacles in establishing better consumer confidence.

“Enforcement work at EPA … has continued to lag during the Biden administration,” per E&E News. “The Environmental Integrity Project found in a report last year that the agency’s figures on civil enforcement, criminal investigations, referrals to the Department of Justice and other metrics had gotten worse over time.”

To address these shortcomings, the EPA’s annual budget grew by about 6% for 2023 to exceed $10 billion. And now, it seems the administration is growing its ranks as it prepares to pursue an ambitious agenda of water-quality-focused initiatives.

“Uhlmann also discussed how EPA is developing enforcement and compliance initiatives, which will go into effect Oct. 1 and continue for the next four years,” E&E News reported. “The agency has proposed to have new initiatives on climate change; per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, known as the ‘forever chemicals’ responsible for widespread contamination; as well as coal ash and lead exposure. Environmental justice principles meant to address the disproportionate pollution burden some communities face are also expected to be included in all of the enforcement initiatives.”

While EPA funding and staffing alone won’t solve the nation’s drinking water and wastewater issues, let alone reestablish public trust, stronger federal defenses against pollution and contaminants will certainly have an impact on utilities and consumers.

To read more about the rules that govern drinking water and wastewater treatment operations, visit Water Online’s Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.