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Once-Secret 'Watch List' Of Alleged Polluters Under Review At EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency's once-secret "Watch List" of allegedly chronic polluters is under review by the EPA's inspector general.

The existence of the list was first disclosed by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and NPR in 2011 during a joint investigation of EPA's air pollution regulation. CPI's Jim Morris discovered the list and a CPI/NPR Freedom of Information Act request prompted its public release.

As that CPI/NPR report found, the watch list underscores how much the government knows about the threat from dangerous chemicals in the air of hundreds of communities, "and how little it has done to address it."

Morris now has an update on the CPI website that quotes a newly-discovered document. In it, the EPA inspector general's office says it is exploring "potential improvements in the protection of human health and the environment by ensuring the EPA is enforcing environmental laws and cleaning up communities."

The document was sent to Cynthia Giles, the EPA's administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The CPI/NPR investigation was reported in the series "Poisoned Places," which found persistent toxic air pollution two decades after Congress toughened the Clean Air Act and targeted chronic violators. The series found 1,600 businesses and institutions identified by EPA as "high priority violators." As Morris and NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reported, close to 400 were placed on the "Watch List" because they appeared to be receiving inconsistent or inadequate attention from state and EPA regulators.

As Morris now reports, In 2009, the EPA inspector genereal "found that 'in many instances EPA and States are not addressing high priority violations ... in a timely manner.'"

Morris also quotes a 2011 inspector general report, which said "EPA does not administer a consistent national enforcement program" and state enforcement efforts, which EPA supervises, are "underperforming."

Now, Morris writes, "the IG is exploring how effectively the EPA is using the polluter watch lists."

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