GAO: High Risk: U.S. Government’s Environmental Liabilities

[ Background Music ]>>When federal government activities contaminate the environment, various federal laws, agreements with states, and court decisions put the government on the hook for the cleaning bill. For fiscal year 2016, Treasury estimated that the federal government’s environmental liability was $447 billion-up from $212 billion for fiscal year 1997. However, this estimate does not reflect all of the future cleanup responsibilities facing federal agencies, so the actual cost is likely even more. Hi, I’m David Trimble, a director in GAO’s Natural Resources and Environment team. Nuclear weapons production facilities, shuttered military installations, and abandoned mines are all sites where the federal government may have to pay environmental cleanup costs. We have found that the agencies responsible for environmental cleanup work at these sites could address these liabilities better. Specifically, better inventories of contaminated sites and more oversight of cleanup efforts could help agencies estimate future costs. In addition, prioritizing cleanup efforts based on the risks certain hazards pose to public health and the environment could help agencies get a better handle on what’s needed both now and for the future. Because environmental liabilities have the potential to cost taxpayers and the government billions more than estimated, GAO has added them to its 2017 High Risk List.

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