Submitted by Linda Kinman, past president of the Iowa Environmental Council’s board of directors, Public Policy Analyst at Des Moines Water Works and executive director of public policy for the Iowa Association of Water Agencies; both are Council member organizations.
During the 1800s, scientists began to gain a greater understanding of the sources and effects of drinking water contamination. Federal regulation of water quality did not begin until 1914, when the US Public Health Service set standards for bacteriological standards. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the Public Health Service determined that in addition to pathogens and chemicals, industry, agriculture and the creation of man-made chemicals also had negative impacts on the environment and public health. Further studies increased awareness and eventually led to passage of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Today, drinking water is one of the most regulated industries in the country because clean drinking water is critical to our ultimate objective of protecting public health. The United States is the one place in the world where you can go to any tap, drink the water and know that it is safe. Would that be the case without regulation? Can further protection of drinking water sources happen without additional regulation?
Regulations are in place to reduce environmental pollution and are the foundation for protecting public health. Without compliance, regulations do not achieve the desired results. Achieving compliance involves an effort that compels changes in behavior. Some individuals comply with regulations voluntarily, some will not, and some will comply only if they see that others are being penalized for noncompliance. Enforcement of regulations deters violators from violating.
When voluntary actions fail, an effective regulatory program ensures individual adherence to standards, which benefit the majority. Regulatory programs provide an understanding of expectations by all affected parties. To provide this understanding, enforcement of state and federal regulations must be fair, consistent, timely and expected.
Perception is important in creating deterrence, and how enforcement actions are taken is just as important as the fact that they are taken. Special leniency considerations should be minimal, and cases spanning multiple years–especially with ongoing or multiple violations–should not result in preferential or lenient decisions. Compliance reinforces the credibility of the enforcement efforts and the legal systems that support them.
The effectiveness of Iowa’s environmental enforcement efforts rely on the actions of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Commission. Their willingness and ability to enforce rules and regulations put in place by the U.S. Congress and Iowa State Legislature affirmatively promotes voluntary compliance and identifies and imposes legal consequences on the minority who choose not to comply. Effective enforcement brings many benefits to society, and the most important is the protection of public health. Regulations identify Iowans’ moral principles – their social values and quality of life expectations. Effective enforcement ensures fairness for those who willingly comply with rules and regulations.