Environmental Outlook: Five Tips to Support Compliance with Environmental Regulations in 2021
By Meagan L. Moore on January 12, 2021
This inaugural edition will provide a checklist of action items regulated businesses should take at the start of the year to ensure compliance with applicable environmental laws.
As we begin a new year, now is a good time to review your operations and files and check for some of the following issues:
- Ensure there are no changes in process that could trigger additional regulatory requirements or require changes to established compliance programs. Compliance issues can arise if there is a change in process that could impact permitting or reporting requirements. For example, putting a new boiler online could trigger a change in air permitting status or reporting requirements. Taking equipment offline could also trigger such requirements. An addition or change in a material used in a process could also trigger new reporting or monitoring obligations. It is also advisable to evaluate current compliance programs to confirm the set standards adequately reflect the operations. It is best to be aware of changes in process and take the necessary steps now to confirm compliance, rather than after a compliance inspection is performed by a regulatory agency.
- Know your annual reporting requirements and reporting dates. There are specific reporting deadlines on both a state and federal level for certain regulations. For instance, if your company is subject to Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting, your submittal is due by July 1. Pay attention to which regulations apply to your operations and know if there are reporting or monitoring timelines that must be satisfied. Individual permits should also be reviewed to determine site specific reporting requirements. Failure to comply with set reporting or monitoring deadlines may result in enforcement actions and fines.
- Make sure all permits and authorizations are current and submit necessary renewals in a timely manner. While compiling reporting deadlines, it is good practice to confirm all permits and authorization will remain current for the coming year. Check your air permits and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to see if renewals are required. Preparing and submitting permit renewals can be a time consuming process, so make sure you know expiration dates and submit the necessary renewal applications allowing for sufficient time to work through the renewal process with the regulating agency.
- Confirm company records for the prior reporting year are complete. Now is a good time to review the prior year’s files to make sure any necessary documentation has been retained. Certain regulations and permits will set specific retention periods for reports and monitoring data. Be sure to have that information stored in case a regulatory inspection occurs this year. In 2020 both the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA implemented enforcement discretion policies due to the ongoing pandemic and various stay-at-home orders/guidelines. As a result of these policies, regulated entities could seek regulatory flexibility for certain compliance requirements. If your business took advantage of this flexibility, be sure your files contain information supporting the individual request which explains the impact of COVID-19 to your operations and the specific flexibility that was requested.
- Consider performing an internal audit to determine potential compliance gaps. If the above measures are showing compliance gaps, or if you are unsure where to start in determining whether there may be environmental compliance issues, it may be a good idea to retain a third-party to perform an internal environmental audit of your facility’s operations. This audit may be performed by legal counsel or conducted by a trusted environmental consultant. An environmental audit is designed to determine compliance with environmental regulations. It could include a site inspection, document review, and interviews with employees. Depending on the results of the audit, a report can be prepared which will recommend certain actions to address potential compliance gaps.
Performing the above steps now can help protect against enforcement actions in the future. If you have any questions regarding how these issues could impact your business or how we can help provide additional guidance, please contact our Practice Chair Meagan Moore.