Adequacy of EPA Resources and Authority To Carry Out Drinking Water Program Activities

Gao ID: CED-81-58 April 23, 1981

The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974 to safeguard public drinking water supplies and to protect the public health. The act directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish national drinking water regulations which set purity standards for drinking water. It also authorized EPA to grant states primary responsibility, or primacy, for enforcing the regulations and standards. GAO reviewed the Safe Drinking Water Program administered by EPA. Two items merit attention: (1) the adequacy of resources available for selected Safe Drinking Water Program activities; and (2) the need to clarify EPA authority to carry out the activities of the Program.

A comparison of resources available for program implementation and operation in primacy states versus nonprimacy states revealed a significant disparity. This disparity raised questions about equity and whether people living in nonprimacy states were as well protected as those living in primacy states. Another indication that EPA may not have sufficient resources available for nonprimacy state program activities was the disparity between the resources EPA has spent and those resources nonprimacy states estimate are needed to effectively implement a drinking water program. In a prior report, GAO stated that, in nonprimacy states, the coverage by EPA may be severely limited as a result of resource constraints and may not meet the same standards that EPA requires for primacy states. It is the opinion of GAO that the act does not clearly authorize EPA to carry out the day-to-day operations of a drinking water program in states unwilling or unable to assume primacy. Rather, the EPA role under the Act should be one of supervision, oversight, and encouragement of states to assume primacy. EPA feels that the act authorizes and requires it to establish such programs in nonprimacy states. Because of conflicting regulations, GAO was unable to definitely state that the EPA assumption is unwarranted or legally objectionable.


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