- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t bothered to track whether one of its key pollution reduction programs is actually having an effect, according to a new review by the agency’s internal watchdog.

The National Petroleum Refinery Initiative was launched in 1996 to try to cut down on pollution from oil refineries, which were estimated to be pumping 66 million pounds of toxic pollutants into the air each year.

The EPA met with companies that ran the refineries, and within a decade had succeeded in getting 80 percent of the industry to voluntarily try to reduce pollution, so-called “consent decrees.”

But after that, the EPA didn’t pay much attention to what the results of the initiative were and didn’t test if pollution reduction was actually happening, said the agency’s Inspector General.

The EPA needs to know whether this enforcement approach produced the intended outcomes,” investigators said, noting the agency has used similar programs in other areas to reduce pollution. “By making this determination, the EPA can strengthen the likelihood of success for future initiatives, and achieve and sustain the desired reductions in risk to human health and the environment.”

The EPA disagreed with the IG’s contention that monitoring wasn’t taking place.

While they said they do not have the resources to evaluate pollution reductions to the extent the IG may like, the EPA said they believed “that the approach we are using will be just as effective and achievable at less cost” and that available data show the initiative “has not only met but exceeded our goals for this work in reducing pollution that affects communities across the country.”

The IG argued that after the agency got all the petroleum refining companies to sign on, there was a marked drop in resources given to tracking the initiative’s success.

The EPA did not place the same attention on monitoring initiative outcomes as it did on negotiating consent decrees,” inspectors said.

An estimate in 2011 placed air pollution at 56 million pounds of toxic pollutants – down 10 million from just five years before. But the EPA hasn’t tracked whether its program was a cause of the reduction, the IG said, something agency officials dispute.