EPA stimulus project didn’t buy U.S.-made goods but declines to recoup money

While helping to clean up America, the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t always buy American.

Investigators for the EPA inspector general found foreign-made steel pipes in a stimulus-funded project in President Obama’s home state of Illinois that violated federal regulations, and now they want taxpayers’ money back. But the agency is resisting demanding a refund.

Unless the city can comply with Buy American requirements or obtain a waiver from EPA, the city’s project to rehabilitate its wastewater treatment plant would not be eligible for Recovery Act funds,” the inspector general warned in a report as far back as 2011. 

Money handed out under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus, comes with a provision requiring projects to purchase U.S.-made items, another step designed to help bolster the economy.

But investigators think the city of Ottawa, Ill., purchased foreign-made steel pipes while repairing its wastewater treatment center.  And the IG recommended the city refund part or all of the $3.8 million it was given to complete the project.

But two years after its initial report, the inspector general is still sparring with the EPA’s Office of Water, which oversaw the project.

EPA argued the project – and others like it – are too far gone to turn back now.

OW contends that it would be imprudent to address a problem related to Recovery Act guidance at this late date because the stimulus funds have mostly been spent,” said an inspector general report detailing the response from the Office of Water.  “OW raised a concern that it would be unworkable to revisit thousands of past Recovery Act decisions to assess whether mistakes were made regarding foreign components because of flawed guidance.”

Unable to reach a compromise on their own, the two offices – IG and OW – have turned to EPA Acting Administrator Robert Perciasepe, requesting that he make a final ruling on the Illinois project.

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