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EPA offices rely on outdated information to respond to spills, watchdog warns

By Edward Felker, EnergyGuardian

Wednesday - 2/20/2013, 7:19am  ET

Environmental Protection Agency regional offices continue to rely on out-of-date plans to respond to oil spills and hazardous substance releases, the agency's internal watchdog warns.

EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. reported Tuesday that regional plans don't meet federal national standards, contain duplicative information or need updating. The agency has agreed to take corrective actions by the end of September.

The report follows one issued by Elkins in 2011 after the Deepwater Horizon sinking and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That report also found regional contingency plans were not up to date.

In the latest report, Elkins said EPA has improved planning in some offices by including all stakeholders and relying on current technology to meet the federal contingency planning standards mandated under the Clean Water Act.

Still, he said, EPA should rely more on web-based and other technology aids instead of written plans. Streamlining its planning efforts will allow EPA to meet the mandate that they coordinate contingency responses across all levels of government, which up to now has proven too cumbersome.

"The various levels of plans have resulted in a large volume of information that regions cannot regularly update and maintain," Elkins said.

EPA agreed with the findings, but said that it is limited in its authority to mandate planning by other agencies and governments, and by funding.

The agency added that his recommendations for improvement are similar to actions it has already begun, and will implement them by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Elkins' report can be seen here.