Ending years of trade press speculation that budget constraints might force it to scuttle self-disclosure policies, EPA announced May 20 that it intends to retain the policies and handle disclosures via a new, web-based system called eDisclosure.
Though short on details on how the new system works, the announcement is good news for companies that audit for compliance with environmental regulations. Under EPA’s Audit Policy (“Incentives for Self-Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations,” 65 Fed. Reg. 19618 (April 11, 2000)) and Small Business Compliance Policy (65 Fed. Reg. 19630 (April 11, 2000)), companies that discover, correct and disclose violations receive penalty mitigation and other benefits, including recommendations against criminal prosecution.
EPA watchers are speculating that the new system will mirror a pilot system the agency rolled out in 2008 that allowed companies nationwide to disclose Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act violations via a secure, web-based system. That system, also dubbed eDisclosure, utilized fillable forms to ensure that companies provided all of the information EPA required to process the disclosures.
As of September 2013, EPA had resolved disclosures under the Audit and Small Business Compliance Policies from more than 6,000 entities at over 16,000 facilities. Still, critics of the policies had charged that the vast majority of the disclosures related to reporting violations and that the policies had not yielded significant pollution reduction.
The agency modified the Audit Policy in an attempt to secure greater environmental benefits when it announced an amendment to the Audit Policy in 2008. Called the “Interim Approach to Applying the Audit Policy to New Owners,” 73 Fed. Reg. 44991 (August 1, 2008), the change allows new owners to receive consideration for an expanded range of violations and greater penalty mitigation, including possible waiver of economic benefit penalties, than generally afforded under the Audit Policy.
It is unclear whether the agency will continue to enter into prospective agreements with companies that intend to audit multiple facilities for compliance with multiple statutes. The agency will address these and other questions about eDisclosure in public webinars June 10 and June 15. (See http://www2.epa.gov/compliance/epas-audit-policy for details.)