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What You Need to Know About the EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives Update

March 21, 2016

Every three years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes updates to, or announces new, national enforcement initiatives. These initiatives are aimed at addressing problem areas where federal enforcement could make an impact and where failing to comply with laws is prevalent.

Beginning on October 1, 2016—and continuing for three fiscal years—the EPA will add two new initiatives, expand one existing initiative, and continue four others that are already present. The initiatives span four major categories: water, hazardous chemicals, air, and energy extraction.

First, let’s focus on the two new ones.

Water: Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters

Facilities in the chemical, mining, food processing, and metal manufacturing sectors are largely responsible for the metal and nutrient pollution in our nation’s rivers, streams, and lakes. These are items that degrade water quality and, in turn, can potentially threaten our drinking water sources.

Companies operating in these areas should expect the EPA to become more stringent in terms of enforcement, as the goal of this initiative is to build compliance with Clean Water Act discharge permits and to improve water quality by eliminating illegal pollution.

Hazardous Chemicals: Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Certain Facilities

With large-scale incidents at industrial and chemical facilities nationwide becoming more common, the EPA is setting forth with this initiative in an effort to reduce the risks that cause these accidents to occur. It should also be noted that, given many of these communities are low income or minority, the EPA is citing environmental justice as one of the reasonings behind the heightened level of enforcement.

Facilities required to have a Risk Management Plan in place will be under the greatest scrutiny, so they should pay careful attention when it comes to this initiative.

In addition to these new initiatives, the EPA will be expanding on the following.

Air: Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants

Many chemical plants, industrial plants, and refineries often have leaks, flares, or other excess emissions that cause them to emit hazardous air pollutants (air toxics). In fact, improperly operated flares and leaky equipment are among the largest sources of hazardous air pollutants around. These air toxics have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and as having serious adverse effects on the environment. Consequently, they pose a major threat to communities and employees.

The EPA plans on expanding this initiative between 2017 and 2019, by beginning to address air emissions from large product storage tanks and hazardous waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities. These types of locations are likely to be under heightened scrutiny given the expansion.

Continuing EPA Initiatives

Along with the new initiatives being rolled out, the EPA plans on continuing some prior initiatives as is. Those are:

  • Preventing the contamination of surface and groundwater via animal waste
  • Keeping contaminated stormwater and raw sewage out of the water supply
  • Making sure energy extraction activities comply with environmental law
  • The reduction of air pollution from its largest sources

These initiatives, both new and existing, were designed to provide industries with a better understanding of what new priorities they can expect the EPA to enforce—and continue to enforce—over the course of the next three years. Knowing what the EPA intends to focus on should allow said industries to jump ahead of the curve and, hopefully, address any problems in the necessary areas before coming under scrutiny.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.