EPA launches audit of V.I.'s environmental programs

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ST. CROIX - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General has launched an audit to evaluate the effectiveness of the environmental programs the territory has implemented on EPA's behalf.

The audit will look at how the territory has done with implementing the programs and how EPA Region 2 has done with its oversight responsibilities, according to a project notification memorandum from the EPA's Office of Inspector General.

EPA Region 2 includes New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The goal is to determine whether the environmental programs the territory has implemented on EPA's behalf have met EPA programmatic requirements and what steps Region 2 has taken to ensure that the programs have achieved the intended environmental benefits, according to the memo.

It says the audit will be coordinated and conducted by three divisions within the federal agency's Inspector General's Office of Program Evaluation.

Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for EPA Office of Inspector General, said those three divisions are Water; Air; and Land Cleanup and Waste Management.

The memorandum indicates that staff from those divisions will work with assistance from the Office of Audit in conducting the evaluation.

The memo, which is from Carolyn Copper, EPA Assistant Inspector General for Program Evaluation to Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 2, is dated Oct. 30 and includes a section mentioning setting up a meeting to discuss the preliminary research phase of the project.

The memo did not say which V.I. government agencies would undergo evaluation for their implementation of EPA programs, and Lagda said he could not answer questions about which agencies are in the scope of the audit.

"They're still looking at different agencies. I don't even know which ones," he said.

However, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources implements some EPA programs in the territory.

It was not clear what other agencies might fall under the umbrella for evaluation. The V.I. Waste Management Authority handles waste management in the territory but also is party to several court orders and consent decrees involving EPA allegations of violations of federal law.

Issues that have been of concern to the EPA in the territory in the last several years have included Waste Management's dumping of sewage into the sea when its pumps failed, an issue that is at the heart of a longstanding court case, as well as its management of the territory's landfills, which also are subject to separate consent decrees.

In addition, EPA has filed suit against the V.I. Water and Power Authority alleging Clean Air Act violations.

Before the HOVENSA closure, EPA was in the territory several times to evaluate air quality issues stemming from the refinery's releases. HOVENSA also is subject to an EPA consent decree.

On Wednesday, Lagda said he did not know how many EPA Office of Inspector General staff members are involved in the evaluation.

The memorandum indicates that the EPA Office of Inspector General plans to conduct work in New York, where Region 2 offices are; "at sites within the USVI, and may also conduct work at the Region 2 Caribbean Environmental Protection Division offices in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico."

The territory currently is under consent decrees and court orders regarding its landfills and its wastewater system.

It was not clear how long the EPA audit team may need to complete field work in the territory.

The memo states that the idea for the project originated through information Region 2 provided to the Office of Inspector General during the Inspector General's outreach with EPA to discuss proposed topics for the Inspector General's work plan for Fiscal Year 2014.

"ALL OIG staff will be working in a collaborative and coordinated manner to facilitate productive interaction with Region 2 and USVI officials and staff," the memo states.

It was not clear how long the audit would take.

"We always say it could be six months to 18 months, as a range for our audits," Lagda said. "I don't know how long this one's is going to take."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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