EPA Turns from Enforcement to Compliance Initiatives

For years, EPA routinely announced national enforcement initiatives, focusing its enforcement and compliance resources on the most serious environmental violations at facilities across the nation. In August 2018, EPA announced that it intended to “evolve” the enforcement initiatives into compliance initiatives. EPA stated at the time that increased compliance is the ultimate goal and enforcement-oriented actions are not the only tool to achieve that goal.

Following up on its announcement, in June 2019 EPA issued its National Compliance Initiatives (NCIs) for fiscal year (FY) 2020-FY 2023, in which it established six priority areas as NCIs. EPA stated that it will utilize the full range of compliance assurance tools such as compliance assistance, self-audits and informal enforcement, but that formal enforcement will remain an important tool to address serious noncompliance and create general deterrence.

Four NCIs are continued or evolved from past enforcement initiatives: creating cleaner air by reducing excess emissions, reducing hazardous air emissions from hazardous waste facilities, reducing significant noncompliance with water discharge permits, and reducing risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities. These initiatives remain generally the same.

The two air emission NCIs focus primarily on the reduction of VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). EPA will focus on significant sources of VOCs that have a substantial impact on air quality and may adversely affect an area’s attainment status or may adversely affect vulnerable populations. For HAPs, this NCI will focus on sources that have a significant impact on air quality and health in communities. As to the reductions at hazardous waste facilities, EPA intends to target permitted hazardous waste facilities and large quantity generators in order to address potential noncompliance related to leaking or open pressure-relief valves and tank closure devices. As to noncompliance with water discharge permits, EPA seeks to reduce significant noncompliance by about 30 percent by FY 2020.

Two new NCIs are stopping aftermarket defeat devices for vehicles and engines and reducing noncompliance with drinking water standards at community water systems.

The former is likely a result of the Volkswagen case. The Clean Air Act prohibits tampering with emissions controls installed in a vehicle’s exhaust system, as well as manufacturing, selling and installing aftermarket devices intended to defeat those controls. EPA found that numerous companies and individuals manufactured and sold both hardware and software specifically designed to defeat the required emissions controls. As a result, EPA will focus on stopping the manufacture, sale and installation of these defeat devices.

Reducing noncompliance at community water systems is directed at the 40 percent of the 50,000 regulated drinking water systems that violated at least one drinking water standard in FY 2018. EPA seeks a 25-percent reduction by the end of FY 2022 in the number of community water systems that are out of compliance with health-based standards.

EPA will also contribute to a seventh area: reducing children’s exposure to lead. However, while EPA believes it is a high priority, it will continue to participate in other agency-led initiatives rather than develop a separate enforcement program-led NCI. These current efforts may include increasing awareness of and compliance with lead-safe renovations under the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, developing a mapping tool to identify communities with elevated lead exposures, conducting targeted geographic initiatives and undertaking public awareness campaigns on lead issues.

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