1995 News Releases
PR POLICY ON ENV. SELF AUDITING
Release Date: 04/03/95
PR POLICY ON ENV. SELF AUDITING
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 1995 EPA ADOPTS NEW POLICY ON ENVIRONMENTAL SELF-AUDITING AND SELF DISCLOSURE
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M. Browner today announced a major reform as part of the Clinton Administration's reinvention of regulation: a policy that provides real incentives for industry and others to voluntarily identify and correct environmental violations. The new policy offers facilities that voluntarily disclose and fix violations identified through environmental audits greatly reduced penalties and safe harbor from criminal referrals.
"This new policy is a good example of the Clinton Administration's common-sense approach to environmental protection," said Administrator Browner. "It is balanced and carefully crafted to give the regulated community predictability and to reward environmentally responsible actions, without unduly limiting vigorous enforcement of our environmental laws or the public's right to know. It should goa long way toward increasing compliance with environmental laws." The interim policy is the product of a public review of the EPA's existing environmental auditing policy which Administrator Browner initiated in response to industry concerns that facilities lacked an incentive to conduct voluntary audits if the results might be used
against them in enforcement actions. Steven A. Herman, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, led the review, which consisted of nine months of public meetings and analysis. Extensive input and information were received from EPA regional offices, the Department of Justice, industry, trade groups, state environmental commissions, state attorneys general offices, district attorneys' offices, environmental and public interest
groups, and professional environmental auditing groups. Herman noted that the policy builds on concepts that received wide support among the different groups EPA consulted during its review process.
Among the major provisions of the interim policy:
EPA will substantially reduce civil penalties for regulated entities that voluntarily disclose and promptly correct violations which are identified through self-policing and meet certain other specified conditions, except in cases involving serious harm to public health or the environment. In most cases, the "gravity" (punitive) component of the penalty would be fully eliminated, but the Agency would still collect the economic benefit derived from non-compliance.
EPA will not recommend to the Department of Justice that criminal cases be brought against regulated entities that voluntarily disclose and promptly correct violations identified through self-policing and meet certain other specified conditions.
EPA will not request voluntary environmental audit reports to trigger a civil or criminal investigation. The Agency will consider requesting reports only when it has other, independent information which indicates that a violation may have occurred.
"These provisions effectively address the major concerns raised during the extensive public review period," Herman said. "By limiting the penalty to the economic benefit resulting from the violation, we encourage disclosure while maintaining a level-playing field for other regulated entities that do comply with the law. By retaining the right to request audit reports only where independent evidence of a potential violation exists, we show that we are not going to use audits to engage
in fishing expeditions. And we demonstrate our good faith by foregoing criminal referrals to the Justice Department of companies that take all the required steps to disclose and correct the problem."
In developing the interim policy, EPA concluded that providing predictable rewards and incentives for voluntary disclosure and correction of violations identified through self-policing offers a positive alternative to establishing new statutory audit privileges that could promote secrecy, expand litigation and compromise enforcement actions. Several states have enacted audit privilege laws, some of which include blanket penalty immunities for voluntarily disclosed violations.
"We want systems that are open and that provide the accountability the public expects," Herman said.
The interim policy will take effect in 15 days. However, EPA will take comment on the policy for 60 days and then determine if any refinements are needed.
Additional documentation relating to the development of The Interim Policy on Voluntary Environmental Self-Policing and Self Disclosure can be requested by calling 202-260-7548 between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., requesting an index to docket #C-94-01, and faxing document requests to 202-260-4400, Monday through Friday. The policy also may be ordered
through the EPA Public Information Center, at 202-260-7751.
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