During the administration of President George W. Bush, the EPA has faced criticism regarding its commitment to enforcing environmental laws and pursuing criminal polluters. Lawsuits against the agency, congressional investigations, an overall drop in convictions and several high-profile resignations by frustrated EPA employees have critics suggesting that the EPA is no longer adequately performing its duty.
Even the Supreme Court confirms that the EPA has shirked some of its responsibilities. In April 2007, the court sided with environmentalists in Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the EPA was responsible for regulating new-vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act. It was the first Supreme Court case to investigate global warming.
The case began in 1999 when several environmental groups encouraged the EPA to establish standards for new vehicles' GHG emissions. Four years after receiving the petition, the EPA replied that it had no authority to regulate such emissions and even if it did, considered it unwise to do so [source: Supreme Court]. Massachusetts joined with other states, cities and groups to sue the EPA.
The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act and caused the state of Massachusetts harm by not doing so. The decision potentially gives states fighting for GHG regulations new power over the agency. California, which proposed stricter regulations in December 2005, is now suing the EPA for failing to make a ruling. The state is authorized to create its own air pollution regulations but needs EPA approval before doing so.
The EPA has also attracted attention for its sharp decline in new investigations, prosecutions and convictions -- all of which dropped by a third between 2002 and 2006. Civil lawsuits against defendants who rejected offers to settle outside of court dropped almost 70 percent [source: Washington Post]. The EPA's administration insists that numbers are down because the agency has shifted its focus to bigger cases with probable convictions.
In June 2007, former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman faced a Congressional hearing over the government's environmental response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In the days following 9/11, Whitman assured the public that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe and that residents and workers could return to the area. However, the air was not safe and clinical reports from the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Screening and Monitoring Program have shown that 70 percent of 9,000 workers at the Trade Center site reported respiratory problems. Whitman denied accusations that she had manipulated EPA data under pressure from the White House [source: New York Times].
To learn more about the EPA legislation, policies and controversies, follow the links on the next page.