Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Government Accountability Office Encourages Federal Consideration of Climate Change Costs

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Nov 14, 2017

As I’ve discussed in recent blogs, President Trump’s executive agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are dramatically reducing federal attention to “climate change.” Obama-era initiatives are being terminated or reversed, and planning and communication are being reduced or eliminated. (For example, I noted in my recent discussion of EPA’s draft Strategic Plan, here, that the draft does not mention the phrases “climate change” or “greenhouse gas” even once).

Read More

Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, climate change

New York’s Legionella Program Hitting Stride

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Nov 07, 2017

Although Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) requirements target hundreds of micro-organisms (primarily viruses and bacteria), important hazards remain unregulated. Many await definitive scientific conclusions, but others need testing and control methodologies that would allow requirements to be designed and administered, sufficient regulator and regulated entity resources, and/or high enough political priorities. Until recently, one of these unregulated pathogens has been the legionella bacterium, first identified in 1976 as the cause of “Legionnaire’s disease,” which appears as a form of pneumonia.

Read More

Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA

EPA Delays Action to Update Rule Governing Lead in Drinking Water

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 31, 2017

Since 1991, Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) has required public water systems (PWSs) to take steps to protect their customers from hazardous levels of lead in drinking water. Even before the highly-publicized crisis in Flint, Michigan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working toward LCR revisions that would update and expand these protective measures (continuing ongoing efforts that produced revisions in 2000 and 2007).

In October 2016, EPA produced a White Paper announcing the “urgent need” for revisions, describing key issues and possible revisions, and projecting to propose extensive LCR revisions during 2017. However, since President Trump assumed office, EPA’s priorities are shifting and its resources are being reduced (for example, I wrote about EPA’s Back-to-Basics Agenda here). Most recently, EPA’s formal agency-wide regulatory agenda now postpones the issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) until January 2018 and a final rule until June 2019. While we await action, it’s worth considering how PWSs can reduce lead exposures, particularly since building owners and employers might consider improvements to plumbing and fixtures that could improve workplace water quality.

What Does LCR Require?

The LCR divides PWSs into three groups based on the numbers of customers served, and assigns tailored responsibilities for testing, corrosion control, source water treatment, and pipe replacement. The three groups are:

Read More

Tags: OSHA, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, clean water

Businesses Using “Science-Based Targets” to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Oct 26, 2017

In December 2015, representatives of 195 countries agreed to continue to expand global efforts to combat climate change. The new Paris Agreement broke a longstanding impasse with a clever mixture of binding but unenforceable commitments, contemporary agreements, and ongoing agreements-to-agree (I wrote about the Agreement here). Since then, analysts have estimated that full implementation of these national targets would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about half the amounts necessary to accomplish the Agreement’s stated goal by holding average global temperature increases below 2 o C. Incomplete national successes – President Trump’s decision to back off U.S. commitments is the first and most obvious example – would leave even more to be done.

The Paris Agreement anticipated that sub-national governments and private organizations would contribute to global progress, by meeting and often exceeding national requirements (I wrote about formal United Nations programmatic expectations here).

One of the non-governmental efforts is the Science Based Targets Initiative, through which individual companies can set GHG-reduction goals. At latest report, over 300 companies participate.

What is the Science Based Targets Initiative?

The Initiative is a multi-sector collaboration among the following international organizations: CDP (formerly called the Carbon Disclosure Project), World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF; formerly World Wildlife Fund), and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). Participation in the Initiative is also identified as one of the commitments under the We Mean Business Coalition, which is another international business initiative. The Initiative defines “science-based targets” by reference to the Initiative’s effort to support the 2o C target (which the Initiative refers to as the “2°C pathway”):

Read More

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, ghg, climate change

EPA Moves to Formalize Revised Strategies

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 24, 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has, by word and individual action, been moving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) away from President Obama’s aggressive agenda and toward President Trump’s preference for reduced activity. These have included a less-regulatory “Back-to-Basics Agenda,” which I described here. Now the agency is proposing to formalize these priorities in its strategic plan for the next four fiscal years, 2018-2022.

Read More

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA

EPA Evaluating Superfund Policies

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 10, 2017

One of new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt’s many initiatives has been to change his agency’s approaches to cleanups under the national Superfund law. He announced several basic policy changes in May, and convened a Superfund Task Force to develop detailed recommendations. The task force issued its report late in July, offering 42 recommendations. These are summarized below.

Read More

Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, site auditing

California Offers Liability For “Take Home Asbestos”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 19, 2017

The presence of “hazardous” materials in your workplace can trigger a wide variety of environmental health and safety requirements. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state worker protection agencies issue standards to protect workers during occupational handling and storage. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies issue requirements governing the management of hazardous wastes, and emissions to a variety of environmental media (air, water and land).

Read More

Tags: OSHA, Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA

Federal Agencies Making First Annual Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustments

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 12, 2017

Nearly all regulatory laws provide for civil – and sometimes even criminal – penalties for noncompliance. Penalty amounts (“XXX dollars per day of violation” for example) are typically adopted as part of the original legislation. But over time, the relative sting of these penalties declines with inflation. To counteract the possibility that less painful penalties will be less effective incentives for compliance, U.S. federal law has directed most agencies to make periodic “cost of living” adjustments to maximum available civil penalty levels (there are no provisions for standing periodic adjustments to criminal penalties).

How Did These Requirements Work During 1990-2016?

The first version of this approach was enacted by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, which directed the President to report annually on any adjustments made under existing statutory authority, and to calculate what such adjustments would have been if more agencies had the authority to make them.

Congress amended the Act in 1996 to require most agencies to make inflation adjustments every four years, but precluding adjustments to penalties under the following:

Read More

Tags: Business & Legal, OSHA, Environmental, EPA, directors, directors & officers

US Department of Justice Reining in Supplemental Environmental Projects

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 05, 2017

For many years, federal and state environmental enforcement agencies have been willing to negotiate settlements in which defendants agree to conduct “supplemental environmental projects (SEPs)” as a way to reduce formal penalties for the noncompliance that led the agency investigation and enforcement. Proponents see SEPs as a way to promote environmental and health values by encouraging defendants to undertake projects that wouldn’t occur otherwise in order to reduce or eliminate civil and/or criminal liability. Opponents see them as rogue efforts in which prosecutors substitute their own judgment for the statutory and regulatory directives that are supposed to guide their actions.

Read More

Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA

EPA and the Corps of Engineers Propose to Turn Back the Clock on “Waters of the United States”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jul 11, 2017

On June 27, 2017 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jointly proposed to revise their regulatory definitions of “waters of the United States”, applying authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Their proposals would rescind expansive versions adopted in June 2015, during the Obama Administration, and reinstate the text of the definitions in place until 2015. These actions represent the latest chapter in a saga dating back to United States Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 overturning decades-long understandings of which waters CWA empowers the agencies to regulate. (I wrote about this history in a blog about the 2015 rules here).

Read More

Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Stormwater, clean water