27 Environmental Groups Urge Congress to Restore Funding for EPA’s Plummeting Enforcement

Over the Last Decade, EPA’s Enforcement Division Lost 24 Percent of its Funding, when Adjusted for Inflation, and 640 Staff

Washington, D.C. – Twenty-seven leading environmental organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and House appropriations committee leaders asking  Congress to “significantly increase funding” for EPA’s enforcement program,  whose staff has been slashed by 640 employees (or 20 percent) over the last decade.

More specifically, the letter asks the Senate to increase EPA enforcement funding to at least the levels requested in President Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget, an increase of $111 million above fiscal year 2022, or an 11 percent increase when adjusted for inflation over the past year.  The House Appropriations Committee has already voted to provide the funding requested by the Administration and Senator Dick Durbin, with support from Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, has asked Senate Appropriations to provide at least that level of support.

Adjusted for inflation, funding for EPA enforcement has declined by 24 percent since 2012 and by 10 percent between 2020 and 2022, when adjusted for inflation. The agency’s enforcement program declined from a staff of 3,198 to 2,558 from 2012 to 2022, shedding hundreds of scientists, attorneys, investigators and support staff, and resulting in sharp reductions in actions against polluters.

“These budget cuts mean that even the most serious violators are less likely to be caught, penalized, or required to clean up illegal pollution that endangers the public health or despoils the natural resources that every American has the right to enjoy,” wrote the 27 organizations that signed the letter, which was drafted by the Environmental Integrity Project and joined by the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Air Alliance Houston, Environment America, National Parks and Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and others (see full list below.)

EPA enforcement activity has declined dramatically in almost every category between the 2017 and 2021 fiscal years, according to federal data. In those four years, the number of inspections, criminal investigations, enforcement actions initiated or concluded, and criminal penalties all fell by at least 50 percent compared to the annual average between 2002 and 2016, while civil penalties declined 36 percent.

“With fewer environmental cops on the beat, illegal pollution is left unchecked and continues to accumulate,” wrote the signatories of the letter.

The result is that 485 refineries, factories and other polluting facilities currently have “high priority violations” of the Clean Air Act that have not yet been addressed through enforcement actions, according to EPA records, as of June 28. At least 381 wastewater treatment plants have reported violating Clean Water Act permits more than 100 times over the past three years.

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said: “The EPA needs sufficient funding to achieve its public mission of effective, fair and tough enforcement.  More funding is needed for EPA to effectively protect healthy clean air and safe clean water for people where we live, work and play.”

John Rumpler, Clean Water Program Director for Environment America, said: “The air we breathe and the water we drink depends on enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws. For the sake of our health – and the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams – we call on Congress to give EPA the resources needed to crack down on polluters.”

Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, said: “Federal enforcement of the Clean Air Act is a powerful tool for holding polluters accountable right here in Houston, especially when our state agency is reluctant to regulate. Unfortunately, the EPA’s capacity to enforce the law has been repeatedly curtailed, and we have a lot of ground to make up now. We need the EPA functioning at full capacity so it can fully protect our communities from the harms of air pollution.”

Brad Campbell, President of the Conservation Law Foundation, said: “Congress’ chronic defunding of EPA’s environmental law enforcement program has led directly to more pollution, poorer health, and shorter lives in our most vulnerable communities. It is past time for Congress to stop sheltering lawbreaking polluters at the expense of at-risk populations and law-abiding businesses.”

The organizations that signed the letter are:

Air Alliance Houston

Center for Biological Diversity

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Clean Air Council

Clean Water Action

Clean Wisconsin

Conservation Law Foundation


Environment America

Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Integrity Project

Environmental Law & Policy Center

League of Conservation Voters

Maryland League of Conservation Voters

National Parks & Conservation Association

National Environmental Law Center

Natural Resources Defense Council

Ohio Environmental Council

Patuxent Riverkeeper

Prairie Rivers Network

Sierra Club

Southern Environmental Law Center

Suncoast Waterkeeper

Tampa Bay Waterkeeper

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Western Organization of Resource Councils

For a copy of the letter, click here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 20-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington DC and Austin TX, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org