The US Environmental Protection Agency has continued to pursue an enforcement agenda against many of the same businesses believed to benefit the most from the Administration’s policies. Notably, this includes midstream oil and gas sources, as recently evidenced by EPA’s September 2019 Enforcement Alert titled, “EPA Observed Air Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Operations in Violation of the Clean Air Act.”
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As a former regulator (both as an inspector and an attorney, ensuring compliance and enforcing violations) in the environmental law enforcement space, I read EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine’s recent memorandum entitled Transition from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives with great interest. Having numerous facility inspections and enforcement settlements under my belt, I have seen firsthand the interplay between compliance and enforcement. To be sure, the threat of enforcement and the deterrence factor associated with resolving an enforcement action are powerful tools. But, if the end goal is compliance with environmental laws, does the road leading there have to be so scary for the regulated community? Whereas many regulated parties commonly see EPA and other environmental agencies as enforcement machines, this proposed transition to a more compliance-oriented approach may be not only a welcome change, but also an appropriate one that will actually improve compliance. After all, Ms. Bodine’s office is entitled the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). Isn’t it a good idea to have an equal focus on helping with compliance and on enforcement? And isn’t the point to maximize compliance? Shouldn’t OECA be striving for a world in which its “enforcement” arm goes out of business because it has “assured compliance?” That may be too much for the regulated community to hope for, but the notion of “compliance” initiatives over “enforcement” initiatives is not a bad way to start.
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