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By Renee Schoof
Dec. 8 — An online system for companies to self-disclose environmental violations and resolve some routine issues automatically without penalties will be available from the Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 9.
The eDisclosure system modernizes the agency's 1995 audit policy and allows businesses to get routine disclosures resolved faster, the agency said in a Federal Register notice to be published Dec. 9.
The EPA acknowledged in the notice that a large number of self-disclosed violations over the years “has taxed the agency's ability to promptly resolve all pending disclosures.”
The EPA in 1995 issued the audit policy, which provides incentives such as reduced or waived penalties if regulated entities voluntarily disclose and correct environmental violations, and since then regulated businesses increasingly have conducted environmental audits to correct violations before government inspectors discover noncompliance. The agency said it receives hundreds of disclosures annually.
The new system streamlines the audit policy and the small business compliance policy, which also provides incentives for disclosures. The EPA outlined the plans during webinars in June (115 DEN A-4, 6/16/15).
The new system sets up two categories for automated treatment.
Category One includes certain routine violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) violations, which requires reporting on hazardous substances. The system automatically will issue an electronic notice of determination confirming that the violations are resolved with no penalties assessed, as long as the report is accurate and complete. More than half of audit policy disclosures have been under EPCRA.
Category Two covers other certain violations of EPCRA and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act that are not covered in Category One. For these disclosures, the system automatically issues an acknowledgement letter that says the EPA will determine eligibility for a reduced penalty if and when it considers taking enforcement action. The agency said it would screen Category 2 disclosures for serious matters such as criminal conduct and imminent hazards.
To use the system, companies must register to file, submit a disclosure within 21 days of when a potential violation was discovered, and certify the violations have been corrected, and policy conditions have been met.
The system does not change the agency's New Owner Policy Implementation, which addresses environmental violations at newly acquired facilities and has been in force since 2008. Pre-existing new owner disclosures will be resolved manually, not through eDisclosure. New owners may use the system to disclose future violations, but doing so will not provide consideration under the new owner policy. For that, the EPA will manually process disclosures.
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