Enforcement and Inspection

Tips to Understanding CWA Enforcement

Here’s how EPA enforces the CWA.

Under the CWA, EPA concentrates its enforcement efforts on the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater discharge permit program and pretreatment standards.

EPA authorizes most states to administer their own NPDES permit program, including an enforcement program. In order to administer their own program, however, states must have enforcement rules that are at least as stringent as those provided under the Act. EPA retains the right to commence an enforcement action even when the state agency has determined that no enforcement action is warranted.

EPA regional offices are the primary NPDES enforcement authorities in unauthorized states, although these states may enforce additional penalties that are consistent with or duplicate federal rules. Federal penalties may be in the form of an administrative order, an action for civil penalties, an injunction, or an action for criminal penalties.

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Field Citations and NOVs

EPA inspectors or state personnel in NPDES-delegated states are authorized to issue field citations for some violations (e.g., routine recordkeeping violations, housekeeping problems). EPA officials can issue a citation when inspecting a facility if any technical violations exist. Cited persons can appeal or seek judicial review within 30 days after the penalty becomes final. Note: It is always prudent to respond, preferably in writing, to corrective actions taken to remedy situations related to field citations. A prompt response that updates the applicable regulatory agency about the response details related to a field citation can sometimes halt the issuance of a notice of violation (NOV. NOVs are usually mailed to the attention of the person whose name appears on the NPDES permit. This person is usually a high-ranking company official. The person may not necessarily be involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility, and thus, a citation for a minor violation could potentially cause unnecessary alarm for upper management at the facility.

Administrative Orders

An NOV will usually precede any administrative order and include the type of violation and time within which to comply. These administrative orders are also referred to as consent orders or consent decrees. An administrative penalty may also be included in the NOV.

Dredge and Fill Permits

Similar to violations of other parts of CWA, violations of Section 404 wetland permit requirements may result in severe penalties. The Corps is the administering and enforcement agency subject to EPA review. The Corps may bring an action to compel the restoration of areas that have been filled without obtaining the required permit or dredged in violation of permit conditions.

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Spill Response

EPA’s responsibilities under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) include enforcement actions related to discharges and threatened discharges of oil or hazardous substances to the inland waters of the United States. EPA has the authority to issue administrative orders for the cleanup and prevention of discharges and threats of discharges of oil and hazardous substances to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines. Oil enforcement may be directed at any person, including owners/operators of facilities, where oil spills have occurred or threaten to occur.

The CWA also requires some facilities to develop and implement a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan. The OPA, which amended CWA, requires a facility to prepare an SPCC Plan if it handles, transports, or stores oil. Administrative and judicial penalties may be imposed for oil spills and violations of SPCC regulations and other oil spill pollution regulatory requirements.

The OPA does not preempt state law. States may impose additional liability, funding mechanisms, requirements for removal actions, and fines and penalties for responsible parties.

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