Enforcement and Inspection

Enforcement is Key in EPA’s EJ Strategy

Over the past few years the EPA’s compliance and enforcement activities have adopted EJ concerns as standard practice at every level. The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) approach to EJ is comprehensive and includes documents such as the Model Litigation Report Guidance  and technical improvements like revisions to the OECAs’ civil enforcement case tracking database and use of its internal enforcement tool called EJSEAT to screen open criminal investigations. In addition, procedural changes such as criminal case reporting and tiering system modifications have been implemented and the EPA’s Assistant Administrator issued a memo encouraging the OECA to “fully utilize EPA authorities” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA) to pursue EJ objectives in their NEPA-related work.

In light of these and other EJ-related changes, OECA defined some of their key accomplishments in EPA’s Plan EJ 2014 Progress Report released in early 2013. Some of these enforcement actions were part of targeted geographic or industry programs, and according to the Report, often emphasize settlement activities that “prioritize remedial action in overburdened communities and require green infrastructure projects that have important co-benefits for communities.”

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In Ohio, for example, in 2010 the EPA and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) reached a settlement regarding the discharge of untreated sewage into Cleveland’s waterways and Lake Eire. The discharges were the result of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and treatment plant bypasses, violating National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, several section of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and EPA’s CSO operation controls.

In addition to a civil penalty of $1.2 million, the settlement required NEORSD to spend to an estimated $3 billion to expand all three of its treatment plants, build storage tunnels to contain and control CSO discharges and invest at least $42 million in additional green infrastructure to store, infiltrate or evaporate stormwater outside of the CSO system. Ultimately, the NEORSD system will treat 98 percent of wet weather flows entering the CSO system.

While the obvious benefits are much cleaner and safer water, the settlement also included a federal supplemental environmental project (SEP) to benefit local communities. The chosen SEP was a household hazardous waste collection center operating at a permanent location on a monthly basis. Cost of the SEP is $1 million to operate and will serve the NEORSD’s entire service area and EPA anticipated it would collect and dispose of one million pounds of hazardous waste annually. This action was part of EPA’s ongoing National Enforcement Initiative to minimize sewage and stormwater contamination.

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Similarly, the EPA’s National Petroleum Refinery Initiative, which began in 2000, has had a substantial  impact in overburdened communities where refineries are historically sited. During the past 23 years, EPA reached settlements in 32 cases, representing more than 90 percent of our national refining capacity.

When programs are fully implemented, the combined air emissions reductions will equal more than 93,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and more than 256,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year. Cumulatively, the settlements resulted in more than $6.5 billion in control technology investments and civil penalties of more than $93 million.

Again, cleaner air is the obvious prize but these settlements also resulted in SEPS costing more than $80 million. The SEPs benefit local communities and protect the safety and health of people through such things as ambient air and fence-line  monitoring, providing public access to emission data, noise and dust suppression measures, and even unrelated projects such as historic preservation of local landmarks.

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