Dems seek investigation into alleged EPA funding shortfalls

House and Senate Democrats Thursday called on the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general to launch an inquiry into growing allegations that the agency has neglected funding and resource needs in its criminal enforcement program and used questionable reporting schemes to inflate the number of cases undertaken each year.

The request is in response to recent reports in CongressDaily and the Sacramento Bee highlighting growing complaints among EPA enforcement staff regarding longstanding funding shortfalls and increasing homeland security duties.

The request was made in a letter dated today and signed by a host of House and Senate Democrats and Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt.

Other senators who signed the letter include Judiciary ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Boxer has taken the lead on a number of Superfund and clean air issues for Democrats. House signers include Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., and Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn., among others.

In the letter, the lawmakers said they "are extremely troubled by recent news accounts asserting that the EPA inflated and misrepresented its enforcement staffing and record. We are equally concerned that the enforcement office has insufficient personnel and resources to enforce our nation's environmental laws."

The letter asks EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley to report back to Congress on a laundry list of issues, including current and historic funding and staff levels in EPA's criminal program, agency responses to requests from the program for more funding and personnel, methods EPA uses to calculate the number of cases the agency launches each year, and the overall effectiveness of the program in enforcing federal environmental laws.

Although the letter does not include a specific response date, the lawmakers ask that the report be completed as soon as possible, noting "the information called for is critical as Congress prepares to finalize EPA's budget for fiscal 2004."