Introduction to Enforcement | Region 10 | US EPA

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Introduction to Enforcement


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What is the mission of EPA and the State Environmental Agencies?

The basic mission is to protect human health and the environment C air, water, and land. To achieve its mission, EPA and the state agencies implement and enforce the environmental laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures.

At the federal level, nine principal laws regulate the environment. These are:

The above laws cover four basic types of environmental regulation: end-of pipe, product regulation, public information requirements, and clean-up. Most contains parts of each of these types, but have one of them as their major thrust. The Clean Air and Clean Water Act are generally end-of-pipe type laws, governing the amount of substances that can be emitted to the environment; the Safe Drinking Water Act is somewhat similar to these, but its focus is on what is allowed into public drinking water systems as well as protecting the water sources for those systems. Product and waste regulation laws include RCRA and FIFRA. EPCRA focuses on requirements for providing information on releases to the environment and the amounts of hazardous substances stored at a facility. Superfund and OPA focus on responding to and cleaning up hazardous wastes sites or spills of hazardous substances.

There are also a number of state laws in the NW aimed at protecting our environment and public health.

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How do EPA and the State Agencies work together to enforce environmental laws?

Once a law is passed by Congress, EPA drafts regulations to indicate what actions will be required to comply with it. To ensure consistency, EPA also develops and uses policies and guidance to interpret and implement the regulations.

Many environmental laws allow EPA to authorize state agencies to conduct enforcement activities. EPA works with these agencies to help them develop programs that meet certain criteria that are established in the regulations under a particular law. Once a state program meets the criteria, EPA can approve that program. Upon approval, the state has the primary role for implementing the environmental program. In certain instances, however, EPA may become involved in enforcement at a facility even under an state authorized program.

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State Agencies Authorized for Programs

Some of the federal environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and RCRA, have provisions that allow a state to carry out a particular program if EPA has approved it. Generally, EPA approves a state's program if it determines that the state has adequate legal authority and resources to operate the program. Once EPA approves a state's program, permitting and enforcement are primarily carried out by the state. Other environmental statutes, such as the EPCRA, TSCA (except the lead program), and Superfund, do not have provisions for state operation of the program.

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How the Enforcement Process Works

EPA and the states generally follow several common approaches in developing and effective compliance and enforcement program:
EPA and some states also have programs that encourage regulated entities to perform the kind of self-policing that we recognize is essential for the overall success of the program.

1. Identifying Affected Facilities.

The first step EPA and the states usually take is to develop a comprehensive inventory of facilities subject to a given regulation, and a means to identify additional facilities on a continuing basis. For some programs this is relatively simple: for example, establishing an inventory of automobile manufacturers subject to new car emission standards, or an inventory of petroleum refineries subject to gasoline lead level restrictions. In both examples, there are comparatively few regulated facilities, which are likely to be well known to governmental authorities. For other programs, development of a comprehensive inventory is extremely difficult. For example, an inventory of every site in the country where hazardous wastes have been deposited; or an inventory of every piece of equipment containing PCBs.

If a comprehensive inventory cannot easily be developed, then the agencies try to develop means to continually locate likely candidates. Thus, in the example of a hazardous waste site inventory, the agencies are continually gathering information about possible sites from many diverse sources including other government agencies, business and financial reports and statistics, and citizens complaints. The inventory is constantly growing and may never be complete, but if the information gathering effort is well designed and implemented we may presume that most sites, and probably the worst sites, have been or will be identified.

Computerized national data bases are invaluable for efficient storage and retrieval of the information which will be gathered in compiling and updating the inventory, as well as in other phases of the enforcement program. EPA and the NW states are also working to make the information in these data bases more accessible to the public. The Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database has been developed providing Internet access to information contained in core EPA data systems


2. Educating the Regulated Community and Providing Compliance Assistance.

Although a lack of knowledge of the law is no defense, the success of most regulatory programs depends heavily on voluntary compliance. Consequently, state agencies, as well as EPA, make a vigorous effort to educate the regulated community. Once an inventory has been compiled, information packages can be mailed to affected facilities, seminars may be held at which government personnel explain the requirements, and news media (especially the trade press for an affected industry) can be enlisted in the outreach effort.

When extensive environmental regulation began in the 1970s, the focus was often on major utility and manufacturing facilities which emitted large amounts of pollution. As those facilities were brought into compliance, however, the residual impact of smaller facilities became more important. Consequently, smaller facilities -- often operated by small businesses -- have increasingly been subjected to regulatory requirements. Such small businesses often lack the expertise and resources, available to larger corporations, that are required to understand and properly respond to complex environmental rules. In response to this changing dynamic in environmental compliance, the NW states and EPA have increased their efforts at providing compliance assistance, primarily to small businesses.

Over the past several years EPA has begun to develop more structured programs for the provision of industry-specific, and even site-specific technical compliance advice to companies who seek our assistance. The agencies are also beginning to make extensive use of electronic information sharing technology. Agency-wide and a variety of Internet sites provide substantial compliance assistance information for a variety of industrial sectors. EPA=s Avirtual@ compliance assistance centers for several different industries can be accessed through the Internet, and receive a large number of Ahits@ annually.

3. Compliance Monitoring.

There are many means of determining the compliance status of affected facilities. Direct inspection and testing by government personnel is often the best, but also may be among the most costly means. Other means include:

Nevertheless, the mainstay of any compliance monitoring effort will be government inspectors in the field. Intelligent targeting of limited inspection resources is therefore essential.

4. Enforcement Response

A good compliance monitoring effort will provide information about who is violating the law. An enforcement response policy will instruct government personnel on how to respond to detected violations in a timely and appropriate manner. Timeliness is very important. A prompt enforcement response, even of modest severity, can often be more effective in providing a deterrent to future violations than a long delayed response of greater severity.

In determining what is an appropriate response to a violation, it is first necessary to assess the range of sanctions which the legislature has made available. For most of the environmental programs administered by EPA and the states, a wide range of enforcement tools are available:

5. Monitoring Return to Compliance

As part of their programs EPA and the states also monitor return to compliance. Facilities are typically required to document the fact that their violations are no longer occurring, and this final step usually completes the enforcement process at a given facility.


Note: This introduction is provided for informational purposes only and does not create any new rights, responsibilities or liabilities for the government or industry.


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