Online Environmental Compliance Tools
With issuance of the June 29, 2020, memorandum by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating that the temporary policy regarding EPA's exercise of enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 public health emergency will end on Aug. 31, it is a good time to review compliance status using important online tools, some of which have been enhanced recently.
The EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database is a good place to start. The website is updated frequently based on EPA priorities and requests by stakeholders. One of the recent tools added is the ability to search for facilities that failed to file discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Clean Water Act Program. This search tool offers improved ability to filter and sort results, including limiting search results to particular types of non-receipt statuses and date ranges. For example, simply by clicking a single box, one can identify facilities with "SNC DMR non-receipt status" (also known as significant noncompliance) by geographic region. Results columns provide additional information on the number of missing DMR forms or values with detailed compliance status data displayed on the ECHO Detailed Facility Report. Although not every state has fully implemented online reporting of DMR data as described on the EPA's NPDES eRule Dashboard, for areas where the EPA is the permitting authority (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and on federal and tribal lands), the data is robust.
Another ECHO tool that has been recently enhanced is the Enforcement Case Search feature. This feature allows the user to search by Sector or SIC code to identify enforcement trends by industry, which is a good way to get ahead of the curve when evaluating one's own compliance status. Other search features include searching by pollutant type or specific program. These are good ways to find out what is going on with other similarly situated permittees. In addition, the "Analyze Trends" feature in ECHO, including the new state dashboards, provides summaries identifying which facilities are regulated, how many have been inspected, and how many have violations and enforcement taken by geographic region.
In summary, every permittee should become familiar with the ECHO database and regularly check its status so that data reporting errors can be corrected if found and to identify and correct potential noncompliance before enforcement action is brought by the EPA, a state agency or a citizens group which may have citizen suit enforcement rights under one or more federal environmental statutes.