EPA Announces National Enforcement Initiatives

By Nash Skipper, EIT

Every three years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selects National Enforcement Initiatives to devote additional resources in order to focus on specific issues with high levels of non-compliance that the agency believes can be improved by additional enforcement at the federal level. For fiscal years 2017-2019, EPA has selected seven initiatives. Five current initiatives will be continued, with one of these being expanded in scope, and two new initiatives have been targeted for increased focus. These initiatives span several key environmental categories, including water, hazardous chemicals, air, and energy extraction.

Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters (new initiative)

Through the use of discharge reporting data, the chemical manufacturing, mining, food processing, and metal manufacturing sectors have been identified as the primary sources of nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) and metal pollution of the nation’s waters. These pollutants can degrade water quality and threaten drinking water sources. As a result, EPA may become stricter in its enforcement of noncompliance with discharge permits, particularly in the industries that have been identified as significant contributors of the pollutants of concern.

Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities (new initiative)

At facilities that make, use, or store hazardous substances, there is a possibility for accidental releases of these materials, which can result in deaths, serious injuries, and harm to the environment. The Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule implements requirements of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. The rule requires facilities that store certain hazardous substances above threshold quantities to submit a risk management plan every five years. In March 2016, EPA issued proposed changes to the RMP Rule. With the new requirements coming into effect and the additional focus on this area, facilities subject to the RMP Rule will need to ensure that they comply with any new requirements when the final rule becomes effective.

Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants (expanded initiative)

Many industries emit hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) that are known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects or otherwise harm the environment when present at elevated levels. In the past, this initiative has focused on HAPs emitted from petroleum refineries and chemical plants. Over the next three years, the focus will be expanded to also include emissions from large product storage tanks and hazardous waste generators and treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. EPA will be focusing on violations related to large product storage tanks and hazardous waste storage (e.g. tanks and surface impoundments). Facilities that store volatile products or hazardous waste in large quantities may see increased attention, particularly when it comes to leak detection and repair procedures.

Reducing Air Pollution from the Largest Sources

Under the Clean Air Act, certain large industrial facilities are required to install pollution controls to reduce emissions when a new facility is built or when significant modifications are made at existing facilities. Investigations by EPA found that some facilities had not installed the required pollution controls following significant modifications. Facilities that EPA has focused this initiative on include coal fired power plants and acid, glass, and cement manufacturing facilities. These industries can expect to see EPA involvement continue at its current level.

Ensuring Energy Extraction Activities Comply with Environmental Laws

Natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel compared to other fossil fuels, but some methods of natural gas extraction pose risks to human health and the environment. EPA works with states in efforts to make sure that extraction and production of natural gas are done in a way that protects health and the environmental and complies with existing laws.

Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Storm Water Out of the Nation’s Waters

Overflows of raw sewage and discharges of contaminated storm water from municipal sewer systems introduce many pollutants into the nation’s waters. These include disease causing organisms, metals, and nutrients. The direct effect of this initiative is on counties and municipalities, particularly those that operate municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4) or combined sewer systems (sewage and surface runoff collected in a single system). There is an indirect effect on industrial facilities that discharge storm water into an MS4 or combined sewer system. MS4 operators must maintain discharge permits. One of the requirements of these permits is to periodically inspect industrial facilities that discharge storm water into the MS4. Facilities that discharge storm water to an MS4 may be more likely to receive an inspection from the local MS4 operator.

Preventing Animal Wastes from Contaminating Surface and Ground Water

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) lead to the creation of large quantities of animal waste. If not properly managed, pollutants from the animal waste can impair water quality, leading to fish kills. The waste can also contaminate drinking water with bacteria and parasites that cause diseases. EPA plans to use monitoring data to identify areas where CAFOs are impairing waters and then promote technologies to address pollution from animal waste in those areas.

What This Means

Those engaged in the industries and processes identified can expect to see increased federal oversight, including additional inspections and records reviews by EPA. This can lead to fines if any non-compliance is discovered.

If you would like more information on how to ensure your compliance with these initiatives and other environmental regulations or need assistance responding to enforcement actions or mitigating fines, please contact CTI at (770) 263-6330 or cti@conversiontechnology.com.

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