A Review of the EPA’s 2014 Regulatory Priorities

Every three years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes a new set of enforcement initiatives. Since we are now in the second year of the latest three-year cycle, it’s instructive to look back at the agency’s enforcement activity from the past year to see what we can learn about EPA’s priorities going forward. Here are a few highlights from the 2014 fiscal year that ended on September 30:

  • Certain penalties hit a five-year low: Administrative and civil judicial penalties assessed in FY 2014 were the lowest in more than five (fiscal) years;
  • Enforcement resulted in lower volumes of remediated media: The estimated environmental benefits from remediation of contaminated soils (about 15 million cubic yards) and reduction of pollutants (about 514 million pounds) have declined significantly from FY 2012, by about 90 percent and 75 percent respectively; and
  • Enforcement cases are down: The number of enforcement cases initiated (2,278) and concluded (2,286) in FY 2014 were the lowest during the past five (5) fiscal year period.

The lower numbers likely reflect budget reductions, an agency shut down and a refocusing of agency resources. Such a focus has meant a gradual shift to high-priority cases involving the largest pollution problems, but also resolutions with deterrence value and benefits beyond the violator.

This fiscal year and next, the EPA’s national enforcement initiatives are therefore expected to continue focusing on:

  • Protecting waters from raw sewage and contaminated stormwater;
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground waters;
  • Reducing toxic air pollution that affect communities’ health;
  • Reducing widespread air pollution from the largest sources, e.g. coal-fired utilities, cement, glass and acid sectors;
  • Reducing pollution from mineral processing operations; and
  • Assuring energy extraction sector compliance with environmental laws.

If you’re working in a targeted industry or have operations that fall within these targeted areas, it’s important to remain vigilant.

EPA’s implementation of new strategies could also be expected to shape EPA’s enforcement activities in the years to come. These include EPA’s commitment to strong state and Tribal partnerships as well as such programs as ‘Next Generation Compliance’ and ‘E-Enterprise for the Environment,’ which are designed to improve compliance by leveraging electronic reporting, increasing transparency, and promoting advanced monitoring technologies.

To learn more about what the EPA’s enforcement trends could mean for your company, join Miles & Stockbridge for the March 12 NAEM webinar , “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Review of EPA’s 2014 National Enforcement Initiatives”.

 

Opinions and conclusions in this post are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation.

About Marian Hwang

Marian Hwang has been an environmental attorney with Miles and Stockbridge since 1987, where she co-chairs its Environmental Practice Group. She is LEED certified, serves on boards of many community, civic and professional organizations, and has been named as one of The Best Lawyers in America (Environmental/Law Litigation) from 2007 to present.

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