Scott Slesinger, Legislative Director, Washington, DC
After more than a year of investigation, EPA discovered that Volkswagen AG, Audi AG and Volkswagen Group of America deliberately cheated the emissions test of the Environmental Protection Agency. The company circumvented Clean Air Act laws with the use of a software “defeat device” installed on nearly 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi diesel models sold in the United States since 2008. The modifications allow the vehicles to circumvent emissions inspections and spew nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times federal standards on the road.
VW is a major world company. Most companies are probably not as concerned about their reputation as such a bulwark of German capitalism. Are there other companies regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency who are falling through the cracks? We don’t know.
In another case–the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), sent peanuts and peanut butter to a variety of food manufacturers and distributors that was the source of a massive salmonella outbreak that started in 2008 and resulted in hundreds of sick Americans and a number of deaths. The head of the company has been sentence to jail for knowingly allowing contaminated peanuts to be shipped. With the FDA also facing a continued deficiency of funding to police the food industry and overall public health, their best means of protection is to bring criminal charges to high-profile situations that they catch but that leaves room for many, many cases to fly under the radar.
Despite these two cases, enforcement of our environment, food and safety laws are being thwarted as the Republicans in the House and Senate continue to slash the funding of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. Extended hiring freezes and layoffs undermine the agencies’ ability to effectively provide their regulatory functions efficiently. Chronically underfunding EPA drastically reduces the resources it has available for compliance assurance and enforcement. That not only undermines healthy air, but creates an uneven playing field for other industry actors that abide by the rules.
The Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) whose sole purpose is to protect human health and the environment has seen its budget cut by over 20% since the Republican Party took control of the House in 2011. Such cuts to the EPA cripple the agency in such fashion that will not only be detrimental to the environment, but it could have potentially fatal consequences on the health and well-being of American citizens. The U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in 2011, which was supposed to give the FDA food safety muscle, has not received even close to the funding the agency was hoping for. Funding for the Act is more than $276 million behind where it needs to be.
Environmental health agencies have been given more and more responsibility, but not the adequate resources needed to carry out their mission. If GOP legislators succeed in attacking our federal budget, cases such as these will continue to fly mostly under the radar until it has cost Americans dollars and their overall health. It is time for the Congress to end the sequester and fund domestic programs at the level that protects Americans and our planet. The sequester cuts were intended to be so arbitrary that they would force a deal and so that the sequester funding levels would never go into effect. But even that couldn’t get to a deal. Republicans have found a loophole for Defense, now it is time to find a solution that is broader and doesn’t put the entire burden on domestic agencies that protect our environment, our safety, our veterans and our future.