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Industrial and chemical facilities beware and prepare: U.S. EPA announces new enforcement initiatives

March 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced updated and additional National Enforcement Initiatives that will be a focus for EPA enforcement in the next few years. Below is a quick summary of the initiatives and action items companies can take now to avoid receiving violations from EPA or state environmental agencies.

New enforcement initiatives

1. Risk management planning: One of EPA’s new initiatives is focused on reducing the risk of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities. This initiative is likely in response to the increasing number of large explosions in the last few years, including the one at the West Fertilizer facility near Waco, Texas.

The initiative will include increased EPA focus on proper maintenance, updating and review of Risk Management Plans (RMP) for facilities. EPA’s RMP Rule requires certain facilities that store a threshold quantity of certain hazardous substances to have an up-to-date plan in place and submitted to EPA. The plan is multifaceted and involves an assessment of prior releases at the facility, a detailed release prevention plan and an emergency response program. The plan must be updated and resubmitted to EPA at least every five years, or more frequently if there are changes in the chemicals used at the facility.

While EPA’s focus seems to be on the RMP Rule, its enforcement could expand to include review of other required safety plans such as a facility’s hazardous waste contingency plan or the notification and planning requirements under EPA’s Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

Given this New Enforcement Initiative from EPA, here are some preventive action items facilities should consider:

  • Confirm whether your facility is subject to EPA’s RMP Rule.
  • Confirm your Risk Management Plan is up to date and complete.
  • Engage in the rule comment period, which is ongoing for EPA’s revisions to the RMP Rule. The comment period for the rule closes May 13, 2016.
  • Confirm your facility’s hazardous waste contingency plan is up to date and accurate.
  •  Confirm if your facility is subject to EPCRA’s planning requirements.
  • Ensure all EPCRA planning notifications are up to date and current.

2. Industrial Pollutant Discharges: EPA’s second newly announced initiative focuses on the discharge of industrial pollutants into waters, lakes, rivers, streams, etc. EPA regulates these discharges through  National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and through storm water permits under the Clean Water Act.

Facilities should undertake the following preventative actions:

  • Review the terms of any discharge permit held by your facility, whether it be a NPDES permit or a storm water discharge permit.
  • Ensure timely reporting of all monitoring data for all required discharge points to EPA.
  • Review if your facility is exceeding or threatens to exceed any of the limits of the monitored pollutants in the facility’s permit.
  • Proactively plan and address any threatened exceedances of the permit discharge limits to ensure compliance.  

Continuing focus on previously announced enforcement initiatives

In addition to these two newly announced enforcement initiatives, EPA also has reaffirmed six previously announced initiatives:

  • Reducing air pollution from the largest sources;
  • Cutting hazardous air pollutants;
  • Ensuring energy extraction activities comply with environmental laws;
  • Reducing pollution from mineral processing operations;
  • Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of our nation’s waters; and
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground water.

Additional information on EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives can be found on EPA’s website: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/national-enforcement-initiatives