If you are part of the regulated community – hang on to your hats!  Newly confirmed Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), David Uhlmann, hit the ground running.  On August 17, 2023, Mr. Uhlmann announced the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs) for fiscal years 2024-2027.

Officially, the six NECIs include

  • Mitigating Climate Change
  • Addressing Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
  • Protecting Communities from Coal Ash Contamination
  • Reducing Air Toxics in Overburdened Communities
  • Increasing Compliance with Drinking Water Standards
  • Chemical Accident Risk Reduction

The announcement seems to boil down to the three main issues that have been the focus of the Biden Administration – climate, PFAS, and Environmental Justice.

Mitigating Climate Change

Under “Mitigating Climate Change,” the EPA specifically states that they will focus on (1) methane emissions from oil and gas facilities; (2) methane emissions from landfills; and (3) the use, importation, and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  According to the EPA, they have “documented widespread noncompliance in all three of these areas, resulting in potentially tens of thousands of tons of unlawful emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.”

This should be no surprise.  President Biden has stated on numerous occasions that “climate change is an existential threat.”  The President has also stated he will use his executive powers to “combat the climate crisis.”  Expect a continued focus on reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gases and the “whole of government” approach to do so.

Addressing Exposure to PFAS

The EPA states they will focus on implementing the PFAS Strategic Roadmap and “hold responsible those who manufactured PFAS and/or used PFAS in the manufacturing process, federal facilities that released PFAS, and other industrial parties who significantly contributed to the release of PFAS into the environment.”  As proposed PFAS regulations loom, it’s not surprising that this will be a continued area of regulatory concern.  PFAS remain a tremendous unknown environmental liability threat for a wide-range of companies as the regulatory goal posts continue to move.

For more information on PFAS see our PFAS Resources page.

Protecting Communities from Coal Ash Contamination

This initiative will focus on the “threat presented by the hundreds of millions of pounds of coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals (CCR).”  The contaminants of concern associated with coal ash include mercury, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic.  The EPA states that the initiative will focus on the approximately 300 facilities nationwide.  They also state that neighborhoods located near these facilities are often communities with environmental justice concerns.

Reducing Air Toxics in Overburdened Communities

This effort will focus on “exposure to regulated hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from nearby industry.”  The EPA states that they will “focus on sources of HAPs in communities already highly burdened with pollution impacts.”  This appears to be giving another “nod” to environmental justice.

Increasing Compliance with Drinking Water Standards

According to the EPA, this initiative, “seeks to ensure that the approximately 50,000 regulated drinking water systems that serve water to residents year-round, referred to as Community Water Systems (CWSs), comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).”  Any discussion about the SDWA has to include PFAS and the Proposed Primary Drinking Water Regulation (March 24, 2023).

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One of the six objectives under the EPA’s NECIs is “Increasing Compliance with Drinking Water Standards.” Pending are the EPA’s MCLs for PFAS in drinking water (Image by musiking from Pixabay).

Chemical Accident Risk Reduction

The EPA will focus on reducing “the likelihood of catastrophic chemical releases, and to address the problem of avoidable chemical incidents that continue to occur throughout the country.”  According to the EPA, they have found significant noncompliance with companies who handle extremely hazardous substances and they “will target companies that choose not to comply with risk management requirements established to protect public health and safety from extremely hazardous chemical releases.”

More Regulations, More Enforcement?

In past years, EPA initiatives almost appeared to be perfunctory submittals.  However, under the Biden Administration, environmental programs of all stripes are getting more funding, and this administration has involved more agencies in environmental initiatives including the US Security and Exchange Commission.  Further, as stated in our February 1, 2023, blog – this administration changed the name from National Compliance Initiatives to the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives, which would seem to indicate a desire to use the “stick” of enforcement to carry out the EPA’s mission.

No one can say with any certainty what the future enforcement climate might be, and perhaps the best posture is the Latin phrase, praemonitus praemunitus or forewarned is forearmed.

Also see “Seven Steps to Prepare for an Environmental Regulatory Inspection.”

For more information or for assistance with an environmental issue, contact Jeffrey Bolin, M.S. at 248-932-0228, Ext. 125.

Dragun Corporation does not use artificial intelligence in drafting our blogs or any other material.

This blog was drafted by Alan Hahn.  Alan has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and completed a graduate program in Environmental Management.  He has worked in environmental management for 45 years.  He has written hundreds of blogs and articles.  His published work includes Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Detroiter, Michigan Forward, GreenStone Partners, Manure Manager Magazine, Progressive Dairy, and HazMat Magazine.

The blog was reviewed by Jeffrey Bolin, M.S.  Jeff is a partner and senior scientist at Dragun Corporation.  He is a published author, frequent speaker, and expert witness.  His expertise in environmental due diligence, PFAS, vapor intrusion, and site assessments has led to projects in the US, Canada, and overseas.  See Jeff’s Bio.  

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