Report: EPA Could Garnish Wages Over Minor Paperwork Infractions

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Make sure you correctly fill out all your forms when dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency, as people could see their wages garnished — meaning confiscated, with legal sanction — over paperwork infractions, according to a new report.

Facing public backlash, the EPA withdrew a rule giving them the power to garnish up to 15 percent of people’s wages for delinquent payments. But the threat of having your paycheck raided by environmental regulators is not gone, merely sidelined for now.

In light of this news, the American Action Forum (AAF) examined past EPA fines to gauge the potential impact to people’s paychecks if the agency’s wage garnishment rule is finalized. AAF found that the EPA has forced individuals and businesses $2.3 billion in fines for infractions that have nothing to do with “large facilities emitting tons of toxic pollutants annually.”

One of the most important findings in the AAF report is that individuals tended to pay their fines to the EPA on time — casting doubt on the need for a wage garnishment rule in the first place.

“In cases involving individuals, EPA primarily issues fines for violation of paperwork or legal disclosure requirements rather than significant environmental contamination,” the AAF report found. “Moreover, those fines are generally paid on time. EPA’s proposal to grant itself wage garnishment authority more closely resembles a power grab than an appropriate administrative step to rectify an observed issue in their fine repayment process.”

AAF found that at least 41 people have been forced to pay thousands of dollars for “relatively minor paperwork violations.” Fines for these seemingly innocuous crimes averaged “$12,300 or approximately 14 weeks of earnings for the typical American,” according to AAF.

“A review of EPA’s database reveals that the majority of fines for individuals involve paperwork infractions – not environmental contamination,” AAF reported.

“It is not just individuals that EPA recently fined,” as AAF “also found that the agency cited several churches, medical centers, elementary schools, small businesses, and daycares to the tune of $445,000 during the last six years.”

A major source of EPA fines is paperwork violations involving lead paint. AAF found that over the past six years, the EPA logged at least 35 lead paint paperwork violations, levying an average fine of $12,490 to the owners of large and small rental properties.

One person from Connecticut “omitted routine disclosure forms on the possibility of lead-based paint in his rental property.” The EPA fined him $11,000 per violation for 18 initial infractions, and $16,000 for the last violation on not providing information on lead paint. He was fined a total of $159,000 for paperwork violations, but was able to pay the EPA on time.

A couple from North Carolina was hit with $12,000 in EPA fines for leaving out an “EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet.” As part of their settlement, the couple had to pay the U.S. Treasury $1,517 every 90 days.

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