Cleaning Up the Environment

Progress Achieved but Major Unresolved Issues Remain Gao ID: CED-82-72 July 21, 1982

With respect to efforts to clean up the nation's air, water, and land, GAO conducted a review to determine: (1) the progress made toward meeting key environmental goals; (2) how specific cities have coped with these mandates; and (3) what unresolved issues face the nation in the future.

Overall, there has been progress toward meeting established environmental goals. The air is significantly cleaner, more wastewater now receives the required level of treatment, and most drinking water meets national standards. However, the job is not complete. Deadlines for meeting key goals have been extended significantly and unresolved issues, such as how to control acid precipitation and nonpoint sources of water pollution and how to cope with reduced federal funding, will make meeting goals more difficult. In addition, the costs and benefits of environmental protection programs are not easily determined. The Environmental Protection Agency has made little progress on its plans for the improvement of solid waste disposal regulation. Acid precipitation and the long-range transport of air pollutants pose serious air quality control problems which have yet to be resolved. In the area of water pollution, little progress has been made toward controlling nonpoint pollution, and ground water contamination is a growing problem. Regardless of whether compliance with environmental requirements occurs slowly or quickly, it is important that initial compliance be sustained over the long term. In addition, there is a need for flexibility in making pollution control decisions. Some of the present pollution control laws increase the volume of residues that must be disposed of and restrict available disposal options. Because of these restrictions, government and industry may not be free to choose the most environmentally safe disposal options dictated by site-specific conditions.

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