While the USEPA spends a lot of time researching and writing rules that it has promulgated, another area of importance is enforcing these rules – to ensure they are fairly and evenly complied with. Besides the “stick” of fines, potential imprisonment, and bad publicity, the USEPA also uses the “carrot” of encouraging companies to comply by establishing a formal policy to waive the punitive portion of any penalties that would otherwise be assessed for violations if they are discovered independently by the facility, voluntarily disclosed to the USEPA, and promptly corrected. The USEPA’s “Incentives for Self-Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations” has been around since 2000 (modified in 2008) and been used successfully by companies since with compliance self-auditing programs, giving many a “clean slate.”
In 2012, during a time of budget cuts and reduced staff, the USEPA signaled that it may reduce involvement or even terminate the Audit Policy program.
However, on June 10, 2015, the USEPA held a webinar to confirm its strong support for the concept of self-auditing and announced changes to its Audit Policy and Small Business Compliance Policy to meet the same goals, while allowing the Agency to reduce effort spent. (http://www2.epa.gov/compliance/epas-audit-policy) The USEPA has made the process electronic, creating an “eDisclosure Portal” to more efficiently collect information needed to determine whether a disclosure qualifies for the Audit Policy. It was designed to make the process close to self-executing. The trade-off for this efficiency increase is less flexibility to addressing unique individual circumstances.
For example, the Portal will track initial discovery, disclosure, compliance correction and certification dates, and automatically notify the submitter whether a deadline is missed (Audit Policy is non-applicable). The system is supposed to grant up to 30 additional days to complete compliance corrections above the normal 60 days. The applicant can request additional time to comply, but the USEPA will not rule on such a request until it reviews the entire request. Therefore, facilities taking added time to achieve compliance may find their extension request not granted and get no benefits under the Audit Policy.
Another potential problem with the new eDisclosure system for the user is that even if the system indicates that a facility meets all of the criteria to qualify for the Audit Policy program, such a final determination is only made by the USEPA after it reviews information inputted, and it has the right to contradict any statement from the system.
The USEPA does expect that the new eDisclosure system will ultimately benefit disclosing facilities, reducing their time and costs if they fully understand how to use the new system, collect and disclose all needed information fully, and meet all deadlines.
The eDisclosure system is expected to be launched in fall 2015. The new system may provide less certainty and less flexibility to applicants than current procedures, but will reduce time and costs to submit to the Agency necessary data, providing incentive to continue to use the Audit Policy to quickly disclose and correct violations and be rewarded for doing so.
CCES has the Air Quality experts to help your facilities determine potential violations of federal and state Clean Air Act regulations early in the process, help you correct them in a cost-effective manner, and initiate monitoring procedures to allow you to monitor your operations effectively. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.