On February 28, 2016, U.S. EPA publicly announced its priority enforcement areas (EPA National Enforcement Initiatives or NEIs) for the next three years (fiscal years 2017-2019). The announcement provides keen insight into how EPA plans to allocate its enforcement resources in the coming years.
EPA describes the NEIs in the following manner:
"Every three years, EPA selects National Enforcement Initiatives to focus resources on national environmental problems where there is significant non-compliance with laws, and where federal enforcement efforts can make a difference"
EPA has elected to keep five of its current enforcement initiatives, expanding some of its efforts, as well as add two new initiatives. This brings the total priorities to seven for fiscal years 2017-2019. The NEIs take effect on October 1, 2016.
A brief summary of each NEI is provided below.
- Reducing Air Pollution form the Largest Sources- EPA's New Source Review (NSR) initiative has targeted cement, glass and acid plants. However, its principal target has been coal fired power plants. According to U.S. EPA statistics, from FY 2010 to FY 2015, of the 800 facilities inspected, EPA has increased the number of facilities with enhanced air pollution controls from 41% to 77%. By maintaining this enforcement priority, EPA will likely focus on compliance with existing decrees as well as target new industries.
- Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants - EPA is expanding this initiative for the FY 2017-2019 to focus its efforts on two additional source categories-
- Large product storage tanks used by refineries,chemical plants and bulk storage facilities- EPA will likely used enhanced inspection techniques, such as infrared cameras to looks for leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from these storage units;
- Hazardous waste generator and treatment, storage, and disposal facilities- the focus of this expanded initiative will be to address hazardous waste tanks, surface impoundments, or containers, as well as related hazardous waste treatment equipment.
- Ensuring Energy Extraction Activities Comply with Environmental Laws
The attached chart shows the dramatic increase in the number of inspections and enforcement actions related to energy extraction.
EPA has increased the number of inspections from 361 in FY 2011 to between 600 to 700 per year. Interestingly, the number of enforcement actions has not significantly increased when comparing FY 2011 to subsequent years.
It is also interesting that EPA maintained this initiative despite the recent dramatic economic downturn in the energy sector.
- Reducing Pollution from Mineral Processing Operations- Focus is on releases from mining operations that EPA believes threaten drinking water, surface water as well as cleanup mining sites.
- Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities (NEW)- The focus of this new initiative will be compliance with Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule. RMPs are required for facilities that store extremely hazardous materials. RMP is required under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Facilities are required to have plans that inventory the materials and have a plan to implement in the event of releases or emergencies. Plans are required to be updated every five years. It is likely EPA will look for facilities that have failed to comply with the RMP rule or those facilities with outdated plans.
- Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of Our Nation's Water- EPA has largely addressed municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) with combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and/or sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). This initiative was renewed most likely to focus on compliance with existing consent decrees. In many cases, cities are facing the most expensive parts of their compliance schedules.
- Preventing Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Water- EPA has been focused on inspections and enforcement of Combined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for a number of years. Since 2011 it has conducted over 1,800 inspections and concluded 217 enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act.
- Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation's Waters (NEW)- EPA will be focusing on certain industries that it believes contribute a larger portion of nutrient and metal pollution. Those industries include chemical and metal manufacturing, mining and food processing. On its web-page, EPA signals that it will look to compliance with NPDES permits and electronic reporting of effluent violations (eDMRs) to initiate actions.