For the first time in 20 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced major changes to its enforcement program. This transition will apply a broader set of compliance assurance tools, increase states and tribes’ roles in compliance, move away from industry specific initiates, and align the compliance initiates with EPA’s Strategic Plan measures and priorities.

In the past, EPA has focused its enforcement program on the use of traditional enforcement tools such as conducting facility inspections, developing formal enforcement cases, and issuing administrative compliance and penalty orders. The change will instead provide EPA more flexibility to incorporate the use of nontraditional compliance tools such as providing general compliance assistance, issuing compliance alerts, and increasing use of the EPA audit policy. However, EPA will continue to persue enforcement actions to address serious violators and deter violations.

Beginning in fiscal year 2019, the current national enforcement priorities will be renamed “National Compliance Initiatives” (NCIs) to reflect that increased compliance is the goal, and other tools can be used in additional to enforcement actions. The current “National Enforcement Initiatives” (NEIs) run from FY 2017 to FY 2019, but EPA plans to adjust the new NCI process to a four-year cycle with the National Program Managers Guidance, which outlines the national operational framework regions, states, and tribes implement programmatic activities protective of human health and the environment.

Transition to NCIs

For FY 2019, EPA plans to transition the current NEIs to NCIs in the following ways:

  • Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters will have a broad focus on increasing the percentage of NPDES permittees in compliance with their permit limits.
  • Prevent Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Water will be reintroduced to the NEI program and focus on addressing water quality impairment through inspections and enforcement actions to address serious violations
  • Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater out of Our Nation’s Waters will see EPA completing ongoing enforcement cases and monitoring compliance with existing enforcement settlements. In FY 2020, the focus will shift to addressing impaired waters.
  • Reducing Air Pollution from the Largest Sources will focus on completing ongoing enforcement cases and monitoring compliance with existing enforcement settlements. In FY 2020, this NCI will evolve to focus on addressing clean air non-attainment areas.
  • Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities will focus on the most serious situations of noncompliance, address vulnerable populations, and achieve a timely return to compliance.
  • Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) will focus on a the most significant sources of hazardous air pollution, address vulnerable populations and clean air non-attainment areas, and achieve a timely return to compliance.
  • Ensuring Energy Extraction Activities Comply with Environmental Laws will focus on significant public health and environmental problems such as exposure to significant releases of volatile organic compounds, reducing non-attainment, and reducing water quality impairment. In future NCI cycles, this work may be merged with the Cutting HAPs NCI or focus on significant sources of VOCs that have a significant impact on air quality regardless of sector.
  • Reducing Toxic Air Emissions from Hazardous Waste Facilities will focus on addressing the most serious situations of non-compliance, and prioritize addressing vulnerable populations, reducing non-attainment areas, and achieving a timely return to compliance.