The Environmental Protection Agency’s has released the results of its 2020 enforcement and compliance efforts and those results offer significant insight that business can benefit from.
In the first 5 months of fiscal year 2020, EPA was on track to significantly exceed traditional numeric metrics in many categories with more compliance monitoring activities in the first 5 months than in any year since 2013, more in assessed penalties the first 5 months than in 7 out of the previous 10 years, more injunctive relief in the first 5 months than in FY 2019, and more concluded cases in the first 5 months than in either FY 2018 or FY 2019.
Then on March 13, 2020, the President declared a national emergency due to SARS-Cov-2 followed by state stay at home orders, federal employees teleworking, many courts closed, and enforcement took a dive. To its credit, like most of us, EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance program adapted.
Good for the agency, but disappointing for our society, in FY 2020 among the agency’s priority cases were an onslaught of violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by persons hoping to cash in on the fear of the coronavirus by making fraudulent claims that their products or devices kill that virus.
The quick take on EPA’s other FY 2020 enforcement and compliance achievements include:
Commitments to reduce, treat, or eliminate over 426 million pounds of pollution, the most in a single year since 2015.
Proper treatment, minimization, or disposal of 1.6 billion pounds of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, more than all but two of the past eight years.
Clean up of 104 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and water, more than in FY 2019.
Prevention of 18.2 million pounds of air pollutants by preventing, reducing, treating, or eliminating emissions from vehicle and engine air sources through resolution of 31 civil enforcement cases for tampering and aftermarket defeat devices—the most for any one year in the agency’s history.
247 new criminal cases opened, 77 more than in FY 2019 and the most since 2014.
Superfund response and cash-out settlements of over $636 million for cleanup work, $65 million more than FY 2019, as well as $178.4 million for EPA’s costs.
EPA’s FY 2020 Annual Environmental Enforcement Results, offers insights into the thinking of federal regulators, including analysis of specific cases, see, https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-annual-results-fiscal-year-2020
However, if one reads between the lines of the agency issued report, enforcement actions were below prior years reported cases. Not a surprise to anyone during a pandemic.
Moreover, anecdotally, EPA had been vocal in the last 4 years about emphasizing compliance assistance over enforcement. Michael Regan, the Biden Administration nominee for EPA Administrator has accentuated matters of climate change and environmental social justice, but on day to day enforcement he may lead the agency otherwise.
Despite the obvious EPA policy differences in a Trump versus a Biden Administration, the professional staff in the enforcement and compliance program may well man a steady keel in terms of priorities, including in the immediate protecting the environment and public from false claims that products or devices kill the coronavirus.