While enforcement actions will continue to be a critical tool for addressing serious environmental violators and deterring violations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a different tack and transitioning to a keener focus on compliance.
In a memorandum to EPA regional administrators, Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine said the agency is transitioning from national enforcement initiatives to national compliance initiatives.
A focus on compliance is the goal and includes a broader use of compliance-assurance tools and the opportunity for enhanced state and tribal engagement, she said.
The transition from enforcement to compliance builds on welcome policy changes by the Trump administration, Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs for National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.
“Things have been steadily improving since the new administration was put in place. The underlying sentiment of rolling back regulation and working with industry remains in place,” he said.
EPA has been willing to consult with NCBA on new or potential regulations, something industry hasn’t seen with previous administrations. Whether Republican or Democrat, NCBA has always had an adversarial relationship with previous administrations, he said.
“We never felt they cared much about the economic impact their decisions would (have) on our industry,” he said.
And their decisions lacked a proven scientific basis, especially when it came to the cattle industry. In just about every case, NCBA disagreed with EPA’s science — and the current administration also disagrees, he said.
“The acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, has been very vocal in his willingness to work with industry, especially NCBA,” he said.
NCBA is grateful Wheeler and his team have refocused the agency’s priorities. This action clearly reflects beef producers’ continued commitment to protecting natural resources and the administration’s commitment to ensuring stakeholder sand regulators work together to find solutions, he said.
“Cattlemen and cattlewomen take their role as environmental stewards seriously. Now, rather than being the targets of continuous prioritized enforcement, they can finally operate on a level playing field,” he said.
One of EPA’s priorities is preventing animal waste from contaminating surface water and groundwater. It intends to return that mission to its core program rather than keeping it as a national enforcement initiative.
“As part of the core program, in collaboration with authorized state programs, regions will continue to conduct inspections and enforce serious violations in this area, focusing on the strategic plan goal to address water-quality impairment,” Bodine said.
In the new focus on compliance, EPA will seek state input in developing compliance goals and piloting new ways to measure progress and success. The agency welcomes active state and tribal participation in implementing national compliance initiatives, she said.
“This participation, which is voluntary, may include state action in lieu of EPA action where the result is a return to compliance consistent with national expectations to maintain a level playing field,” she said.
The implementation strategies will identify the most appropriate tools for achieving the goals. Those tools could range from general compliance assistance and inspections to informal and formal enforcement actions, she said.