From the “E-Edition” of the Virgin Islands Daily News at <http://virginislandsdailynews.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx?noredirect=true>
Scathing IG report urges EPA to takeover some V.I. programs
Mismanagement cost USVI $37M in grants Audit recommends feds take control
A scathing audit released Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General has found that the territory’s mismanagement of EPA programs endanger public health and the environment.
Additionally, the inadequacy of the territory’s financial management system has caused it to miss out on almost $37 million in grant funding that would have been available to the USVI during the last decade.
The audit report made the recommendation that the EPA take control over several programs that have been administered by the local government.
“The USVI has not met program requirements for numerous activities related to implementing the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Underground Storage Tank/Leaking Underground Storage Tank programs,” the auditors stated. “These activities included monitoring environmental conditions, conducting compliance inspections and enforcing program requirements. Management control weaknesses contributed to these shortcomings.”
Federal law allows the EPA to authorize states, territories and tribal and local governments to handle the permitting, inspection and enforcement of a number of federal programs. The local government must have the staff and resources to conduct the management of the programs, and in return, the federal agency provides grant funding to the local government to manage the EPA programs.
The most recent performance partnership grant covers fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and provides the Virgin Islands with as much as $4,632,096, or more than 82 percent of the approved budget, to implement these programs, the audit report said.
Clean Water Act
One of the programs the local government— through the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources— is responsible for is the management of the Clean Water Act.
The USVI gets $1.1 million a year from the EPA for water-quality monitoring, permits and enforcement.
“However, DPNR failed to comply with water quality workplan commitments because they failed to collect ambient samples in 11 of 25 quarters between FY 2007 and the first quarter of FY 2013,” the report said.
Even when DPNR did collect samples, they did not collect all the samples they were supposed to.
In 2010, the EPA placed DPNR on a corrective action plan, which was revised again in 2012. The federal agency wanted to declare the local program non-compliant, but that would have meant a loss of funding, so they provided “in-kind” assistance instead.
“In our view, the DPNR program is non-compliant,” the report said.
The audit also found deficiencies with the permitting program — the Territorial Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.
More than 90 percent of the facilities with pollution discharge permits were in noncompliance during the last six years, the report said. Even when DPNR identified violations, no enforcement actions were taken, the report said.
Safe Drinking Water Act
While in the territory, EPA auditors found water quality concerns at the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
“We received information about problems with low residual chlorine, high turbidity and water color that may present human health risks,” the report said.
WAPA has consistently maintained that the water discoloration is not a health issue and is harmless.
When auditors reported the concerns to EPA Region 2 administrators in March 2014, some sampling and tests were done. However, the tests did not look for for bacteria or metals— which may be why the water is yellow or brown in areas of St. Thomas.
Of the 15 samples taken, turbidity exceeded the recommended level in eight; the chlorine amount did not meet recommendations for eight samples and was not present at all for one; and color anomalies were identified in eight of the samples.
In May 2014, WAPA provided EPA with a corrective action plan and a bacterial test that showed eight of the 10 test sites showed levels of total coliform or fecal coliform bacteria in the water. EPA Region 2 was satisfied with WAPA’s corrective action plan, but the EPA’s Inspector General’s Office still was concerned because the historical data provided did not include bacterial testing.
Neither Region 2 nor the water utility collected repeat bacteria samples to determine adherence to Safe Drinking Water Act regulations, according to the report.
“As a result, the EPA, the water utility and the public do not know whether the bacteria results indicate a serious human health risk in the drinking water system on St. Thomas,” the report said.
Clean Air Act
The territory gets EPA funding to monitor air quality. As part of the performance review, the auditors found that DPNR had numerous operational and maintenance issues that resulted in periods of incomplete air-monitoring — or none at all.
The territory has not met the minimum 75 percent data collection requirement for any of the air-quality monitors since 2010, according to the audit findings.
Underground Storage Tanks
Regarding the Underground Storage Tanks inspection program, auditors found that the USVI could not locate and provide inspection reports for eight of the 44 underground storage tank facilities in the terrtiory between FY 2011 and FY 2013.
Of 36 facilities that had reports, 32 of the reports were incomplete, missing either signatures, reporting information or supporting documentation.
The Inspector General said the audit recommends withdrawing approval for the Clean Water Act program and issuing a notice of deficiency for the Clean Air Act operating permits program.
The territory’s financial state means that DPNR lacks equipment, staff and resources needed to properly participate in the federal monitoring, permitting and enforcement programs.
“Since the EPA retains the responsibility for ensuring that USVI federal environmental programs are implemented and enforced, EPA Region 2 needs to take appropriate actions to ensure that environmental programs that continue to be delegated to USVI are properly implemented and the public and environment protected,” the report said.