EPA enforcement chief: no plans to address complaints

Environmental Protection Agency officials Wedensday again defended the agency's battered criminal enforcement program, saying despite growing complaints from staff regarding funding and management decisions, the Bush administration believes it is doing an adequate job of pursuing criminal violations of the nation's environmental laws.

J.P. Suarez, EPA's enforcement chief, also said he expects a management review of the program will likely take up some of those concerns, although he acknowledged the agency has no specific plans to address them.

Over the last several weeks, a series of stories in CongressDaily and The Sacramento Bee have highlighted a host of complaints from federal law enforcement agents at EPA, ranging from concerns with agents being used to protect agency officials to longstanding requests for additional funding and staff that have thus far been rejected by the agency's top brass.

The management review, which Suarez conceded was prompted in part by "all this information swirling around" in recent news stories, will focus largely on ways the agency can better manage existing criminal enforcement resources. While Suarez said in a news conference EPA would not include funding staff shortfalls in its management review, he said those issues would likely come up as part of that process.

"It's inevitable that funding levels will get tied up" in the management review, Suarez said.

Suarez also argued staffing concerns raised by Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., are a result of last winter's budget debacle. Suarez noted that prior to Congress completing the fiscal 2003 budget, the Bush administration called for 100 new enforcement employees in 2004. But since the final spending package included 150 new employees, it appears the agency is attempting to reduce its staff levels by 50 employees next fiscal year.