The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looks very different under the current administration when compared to almost any other President. One of the ways the EPA has taken on a different look is how they view environmental compliance (see Environmental Compliance and Enforcement – What to Expect in 2019).
The EPA’s focus on compliance (and helping companies achieve compliance) over enforcement may be seen as a positive or negative depending on your view on how best to achieve environmental protection.
Regardless, for the remainder of the Trump Administration, I think it’s safe to say that enforcement at the federal level will take a back seat to a kinder, gentler approach, to quote a phrase coined by the late President George HW Bush.
More Changes in Programs at the EPA
For those of you who follow EPA agendas and developments, you are likely familiar with the National Enforcement Initiatives (NEI). We have regularly posted these NEIs in our blogs.
Enforcement Initiatives are Gone
Those NEIs are no more. Taking their place are the National Compliance Initiatives (NCI). According to the EPA, “As part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to increase the environmental law compliance rate and reduce the average time from violation identification to correction, EPA recently has adjusted and renamed the NEIs program to the NCIs program to better convey the overarching goal of increased compliance and the use of not only enforcement action, but the full range of compliance tools.”
Seeking Your Comments
The EPA is seeking comments on their NCIs for Fiscal Years 2020-2023.
The current modified initiatives, under which the EPA is operating, include:
- Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)
- Reducing Toxic Air Emissions from Hazardous Waste Facilities
- Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities
- Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters
- Ensuring Energy Extraction Activities Comply with Environmental Laws
- Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of Our Nation’s Waters
- Reducing Air Pollution from the Largest Sources
I think it is worth noting that these NCIs, unlike the NEIs, are not as focused on specific industry sectors, rather, they are focusing on overall “environmental and public health risks.” By way of example, the EPA removed one initiative from this list: Preventing Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Water.
Extending Three Initiatives
The EPA is also seeking comments on plans to extend three initiatives.
Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants. “Leaks, flares, and excess emissions from refineries, chemical plants and other industries emit hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), or air toxics, that are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and seriously impact the environment. Recent monitoring shows that facilities still often emit more HAP emissions than they actually report.”
Reducing Toxic Air Emissions from Hazardous Waste Facilities. “EPA has found that air emission violations associated with the improper management of hazardous waste remain widespread.”
Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities. “Thousands of facilities nationwide, many of which are in low income or minority communities, make, use and store extremely hazardous substances. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities—historically about 150 each year—can result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and harm to human health and the environment.”
Tangential, but perhaps supportive of this focus, was a recent air quality incident in Michigan. On February 3, 2019, Marathon Petroleum in “downriver” Detroit had an issue with a failing flare that resulted in a significant and widespread odor problem from a release of mercaptan. This flare failure and mercaptan release, while not a HAP and, reportedly, not a public health release, was extremely disruptive to the community. There were 911 calls, and the Michigan State Police contacted Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
New NCIs for Drinking Water
There are two new NCIs as well, and the EPA is seeking comment on these new initiatives.
NCI to increase compliance with drinking water standards. “Each year thousands of community water systems (CWSs) violate one or more health-based drinking water standards promulgated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which exposes millions of people to potential health risks.”
NCI to reduce children’s exposure to lead. “A potential lead NCI would support various agency efforts to tackle lead contamination in all environmental media and could present an opportunity to use consumer education to increase compliance.”
It is likely that this is in direct response to issues of lead in water in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere.
We have not covered everything that the EPA has proposed in the announcement. If you want to read more (or provide comments), see the Federal Register pre-publication notice.
If you would like assistance with an environmental permit, plan, assessment, or remediation issue, contact me at 248-932-0228, Ext. 125. If you are frustrated with a soil/groundwater remediation effort, you might want to check out our peer review services.