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How the U.S. EPA Audit Policy Assists Noncompliant Facilities

When it comes to meeting EPA requirements, many businesses may be afraid to submit their records. TRI Reporting is a regulatory necessity and a legal obligation for companies that use hazardous chemicals, and the EPA relies on accurate reporting.

Nora Lopez, our resident TRI expert, has previously mentioned over-reporting emissions is not a safety-net to prevent fines. EPA Coordinators are data experts and trained to notice inconsistencies in emission reports. The EPA and the federal government use reporting data to determine the health of industry and the economy. Data is also complied by sector and inflated numbers may result in stricter emission regulations. Incomplete or incorrectly reporting can also signal to EPA that you may be non-compliant.

How to Avoid the Fees from Non-Compliance

The purpose of the U.S. EPA Audit Policy is to provide incentives for regulated entities to detect, promptly disclose, and expeditiously correct violations of Federal environmental requirements. Simply put if you conduct a full audit, discover, self-report, and implement a plan to make corrective actions in accordance to policy deadlines, then you can avoid penalties.

TRI reporting cases are divided by circumstance level from 1-6, with 1 having the highest penalties and 6 the lowest. Data quality errors voluntarily disclosed on or before November 30th of the year the original report was due are in the lowest category for penalties under circumstance level 6. Similarly, revisions which are voluntarily submitted to EPA but are not reported to the State within 30 days of the date revision are in the same category. Lastly, failure to maintain records at the facility (40 CFR §372.10(c)) is also included in circumstance level 6.  

EPA TRI Policy Circumstance Level

 

Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) audits are an incredible method for self-correcting and establishing compliance. The U.S. EPA Audit Policy coupled with an audit can allow you to start over again fully compliant with applicable rules and regulations. Voluntary disclosures can reduce fines by 25% and an additional reduction up to 25% if conditions are met; however, this does not apply to facilities that have been notified of an inspection or request for information. Keep in mind that your disclosure will likely result in less compromise if you are found to be noncompliant in the future. 

EPA New Owner Audit Policy

Owners that acquired new facilities are offered additional flexibility and incentives addressing environmental noncompliance that occurred before acquisition. Key policy incentives include:

  • new owners can enter into audit agreements that include disclosure reporting that is appropriate to their unique situation.
  • the waiver of economic benefit penalties that otherwise might apply to delayed expenditures.
  • a more generous application of the Voluntary Discovery condition to allow consideration of all violations which would otherwise be ineligible for Audit Policy consideration because they are already required to be identified through a legally mandated monitoring, sampling or auditing protocol, and thus not “voluntarily discovered.”

A New Owner Clean Air Act Audit Program for the oil and gas sector is in development to provide environmentally protective efficiencies and certainty in the sector practices based on Agency analysis. The program will offer flexibilities along with a new owner audit program to make it for the regulated community to self-disclose and correct any violations. An important component will require companies to assess storage tank battery vapor control system design in the audit process.

Ultimately, the EPA has the mission to protect human health and the environment. Compliance monitoring is one of the key components EPA uses to ensure that the regulated community obeys environmental laws and regulations. The Audit Policy is a key compliance incentive tool to encourage companies to self correct independently—by voluntarily discovering, promptly disclosing and correcting, and preventing the recurrence of environmental violations.

Combined Enforcement Policy

The Combined Enforcement Policy (CEP) allows adjustment and flexibility to the Clean Air Act while maintaining consistency. This policy considers degree of culpability, environmental damage, and other factors. The CEP creates compromise between violators and the EPA to adjust penalties in certain circumstances. Adjustment factors to violations apply only to gravity penalties. In instances where the gravity penalty is lessened because of a violator’s good faith to comply, the violator must justify any alleviation of the penalty.

Additionally, the EPA may offset penalties previously rendered, special circumstance adjustments, and quick settlement reductions. Lastly, Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) further reduce penalties after adjustments to the gravity-based penalty are made. SEPs must:

  • establish a relationship between the underlying violation and human health or environmental benefits that will result from the SEP.
  • improve, protect, or reduce risks to public health or the environment.
  • be undertaken in settlement of an enforcement action as a project that the violator is not otherwise legally required to perform.

The CEP is flexible by identifying differences between cases and adjusting the gravity penalties due to circumstances. Penalty assessments require flexibility to properly assess each case, while maintaining consistency among similar cases and violations.

For the EPA, improving reporting through self disclosure or enforcement adjustments are measures to improve compliance management and reporting. Federal, state, and tribal regulatory partners monitor and ensure compliance with laws and regulations with the help of companies. Compliant companies demonstrate the highest values of the EPA’s mission and federal law by preventing future environmental violations to human health and the environment through accurate, responsible reporting.

Download our TRI Webinar

Nora Lopez, a recently-retired TRI Coordinator for Region 2 has partnered with ERA Environmental Management Solutions to deliver expert insights and tips for TRI reporters and EHS Professionals like yourself in our webinar entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know About TRI But Were Too Afraid To Ask.” Click the link to learn the ins and outs of TRI and effective reporting.

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This post was written by Carla Samuel

Carla Samuel is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.