EPA National Compliance Enforcement Initiatives

Posted on 10/13/2015 by James Griffin

Every three years, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required by law to set National Enforcement Initiatives (NEIs). These NEIs drive EPA's environmental compliance inspection and enforcement actions. NEIs are sometimes court-mandated, but more often result from input from State and tribal governments, EPA regional offices, environmental associations, environmental advocacy and justice groups, and the general public.

The current National Enforcement Initiatives were set in 2014 and will remain in place until the end of 2016. In 2016, the EPA will determine whether the NEIs for 2017-2019 should remain the same as the current NEIs.

The 6 EPA National Enforcement Initiatives

At present, there are six NEIs that cover air, water, hazardous chemicals, and energy extraction. The six NEIs are:
  • Reducing air pollution from the largest sources;
  • Cutting hazardous air pollutants;
  • Ensuring energy extraction activities comply with environmental laws;
  • Reducing pollution from mineral processing operations;
  • Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of our nation's waters; and
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and groundwater.
Details on these environmental enforcement initiatives, including a look at the background of each, can be found here.

Even without these NEIs, the various US EPA environmental laws (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and others) require the EPA and/or authorized State agencies to inspect industrial and commercial sites for compliance with said laws.

Preparing for OSHA safety inspection

EPA Enforcement: Civil vs. Criminal Environmental Violations

US EPA's enforcement actions can be divided into two main categories: civil enforcement and criminal enforcement.

Civil Administrative Actions typically do not involve court appearances or judicial action. They may be in the form of a Notice of Violation (NOV) or a Consent Order—either of which may carry monetary penalties of up to $37,500 per day per violation.

Civil Judicial Actions are actual court cases, usually resulting from a company's failure to comply with EPA's environmental regulations, NOVs, or Consent Orders.

Criminal Actions usually occur in connection with egregious and purposeful environmental violations. They involve the courts and often result in not just monetary fines—which for criminal violations can mean fines as high as $250,000 and jail time of up to thirty years.

Keeping Your Site Prepared for EPA Inspections

Even simple civil penalty enforcement can create a public relations nightmare when the news gets out. Facilities should be aware of the potential to be inspected at any time and be prepared for inspections. The requirements for compliance will vary depending on why you're being inspected.

The major influences on inspection requirements are:
  • Which environmental program is being inspected;
  • Whether the inspection is routine (on a schedule created by the agency) or in response to a complaint, release, or other incident; and
  • Whether the facility is already subject to enforcement actions.
If your state has more stringent environmental regulations approved by US EPA, as many states do, your EPA inspector is typically required to inspect for compliance with State, rather than Federal, regulations. Your facility may be inspected by both State- and Federal-level inspectors at any time.

So where can you learn about EPA's recent enforcement actions and overall enforcement record? The Agency provides a number of tools:
  • Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) enables users to search for compliance information for over 800,000 facilities nationwide, including information on permit data, inspection dates and findings, violations, enforcement actions and penalties assessed. ECHO also allows you to create maps and analyze trends.
  • The Summary of Criminal Prosecutions is exactly what it sounds like: a searchable database of concluded criminal enforcement actions. The database is meant as an overview and so does not contain deep details on each individual case, nor are all cases included. For instance, ongoing investigations and cases still in the courts are not included.
    • You can view the EPA's Most Wanted List (similar to the FBI's, but for environmental violators who have jumped bail / fled).
  • You can also see a searchable database of all of the EPA's criminal enforcement press releases.
    • You can subscribe to receive EPA's various newsletters, including those on civil and criminal enforcement cases, here.
  • The EPA is also required to annually release information on compliance assurance and enforcement activities.
New Clean Air Act Regulations Now Available

A new online course is now available to help environmental engineers, EHS managers, and compliance officers keep their facilities in compliance with the US EPA’s Clean Air Act programs. The Clean Air Act Regulations guides professionals through compliance with Title V permit requirements, emissions and pollution controls, annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting, Risk Management Planning (RMP) responsibilities, and more. 

Build the expertise needed to make informed on-the-job decisions that help your site control pollution and maintain compliance. Interactive, easy to use, and available 24/7, the new online course will help you get up to speed with new and changing EPA clean air rules and protect your facility from costly EPA enforcement. 

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