This year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its “next generation” enforcement strategy purportedly aimed at improving compliance with environmental laws. Faced with fewer resources, EPA will have to do more with less—trying to improve compliance with rules and permitting requirements, improving transparency, and adopting innovative enforcement approaches, all in the face of an ever-diminishing budget. One would think that in this context, EPA would be relying even more heavily on the self-disclosure program to ensure that regulated sources and entities have incentive to self-police, audit and report any identified noncompliance. But EPA is taking the precise opposite approach.
In the fiscal year 2013 National Program Manager Guidance, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has indicated that it will reduce its Audit Policy/Self-Disclosures program work to a “limited national presence” and that it is considering several options, and accepting input from the regions, OECA offices, states and tribes, as it reduces investment in the program. While acknowledging that the self-disclosure program has yielded a significant number of disclosures, EPA justifies this divestment of resources by observing that the environmental benefit from the self-disclosure program is significantly less than from traditional enforcement, and is not focused on EPA’s highest priority areas. And even more unexpectedly, EPA representatives have now announced in a public forum that EPA intends to repeal the audit policy by the end of this year. EPA has not revealed what, if anything, will take its place.