AGC submitted detailed comments on a proposed rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would give the agency the authority to cut into the paychecks of those who have unpaid debts, such as a fine or penalty for an alleged environmental violation. EPA would be allowed to garnish up to 15 percent of the “disposable pay” of delinquent debtors who do not work for the federal government via a process known as administrative wage garnishment (AWG) – all without a court order.
AGC’s comments strongly oppose EPA’s proposal to resort to AWG to collect fines or penalties for violations of environmental law. While the environmental benefits of resorting to AWG would be small, the cost would be great. AWG would deprive individuals of their due process right to a fair and impartial review of claims they have violated the law. It ignores the notoriously complex, technical and vague nature of EPA’s environmental requirements. It would also disregard the host of other enforcement options already available to EPA, and put individual citizens at risk of severe financial harm for what are typically corporate matters.
EPA already has effective enforcement responses in place to induce people to make good on their debts to the government and to respond to people who fail to pay the agency. If/when penalties are assessed in conjunction with a violation or noncompliance, they quickly multiply and may become excessive if the respondent fails to pay on time. In addition, if a person violates an EPA penalty order, the agency will routinely refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice (to obtain U.S. court action) to force compliance, or to the U.S. Treasury for collection, if needed. EPA does not need to resort to AWG procedures to get paid.
AGC’s letter points to the overwhelming public opposition to the AWG proposal, noting the more than 800 negative comments posted to the rulemaking docket so far. If EPA chooses to move forward with this action, AGC urges EPA to act on its discretion to implement effective collection strategies that suit its needs.
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