EPA nominee: 200 enforcement jobs ‘will be restored’

By Kevin Bogardus | 06/20/2023 04:18 PM EDT

The agency’s enforcement and compliance program, previously subject to years of budget cuts, is fresh off a funding boost and looking for recruits.

David Uhlmann.

David Uhlmann, nominee to be EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, on Capitol Hill in 2021 shortly after President Joe Biden picked him for the job. Francis Chung/POLITICO | Francis Chung/E&E News

A top EPA official said the agency is filling dozens of jobs for its enforcement team, which could help supercharge the Biden administration’s push to crack down on polluters.

David Uhlmann, deputy assistant administrator in EPA’s enforcement office, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Federalist Society on Tuesday that he had advocated for more resources for the program. He added the agency had suffered losses from a decade of budget cuts, including 950 enforcement positions at EPA nationwide, or 30 percent of its enforcement and compliance workforce.

“Abraham Lincoln once said law without enforcement is only good advice,” Uhlmann said. “I’m committed to leading strong enforcement and compliance programs at EPA.”


In turn, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance is hiring again.

“In this fiscal year, over 200 of those positions will be restored,” Uhlmann said. “So we expect to see more robust enforcement and compliance efforts at EPA going forward.”

In fiscal 2023, EPA received a sizable budget boost from Congress.

The agency’s annual budget is about $10.1 billion, a $576 million or 6 percent jump over the previous year’s funding. That included a $71.6 million increase from fiscal 2022 for enforcement and compliance activities at EPA, slated at $613.2 million overall for those efforts, Administrator Michael Regan told agency staff in an email last year.

That could help ramp up enforcement work at EPA, which has continued to lag during the Biden administration. 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.

In addition, the enforcement office is still lacking a Senate-confirmed leader. President Joe Biden first nominated Uhlmann for the assistant administrator position in 2021, but he still has not been approved.

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.

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.

“Each of those proposed initiatives represents a heightened emphasis on tackling 21st-century environmental problems,” Uhlmann said.

He noted EPA will make final decisions about the initiatives, which are open to public comment, this summer.

Reporter Timothy Cama contributed.