By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just announced its Draft FY 2014-2018 EPA Strategic Plan for public review and comment. 78 Fed. Reg. 69412 (Nov. 19, 2013).

Conceptually, the Strategic Plan provides the Agency’s long-term direction and strategies for advancing human health and the environment. In seeking public comments, the EPA is “particularly interested in feedback addressing strategies contained in the goal narratives, cross-cutting fundamental strategies, and strategic measures.”

Apparently in recognition of anticipated budget cuts, U.S. EPA’s strategy anticipates significantly less enforcement activity.  For instance, the Agency’s new enforcement focus in the Strategic Plan envisions a drop in federal enforcement activity from its 2005-2009 strategy actual numbers as proposed in its 2014-2018 numbers. The comparison shows the new strategy calls for 35,000 fewer inspections, 7,900 fewer lawsuits initiated, and 9,000 fewer concluded civil suits.

A focus of the draft strategy is a “new paradigm called ‘Next Generation Compliance’ to improve compliance and reduce pollution.” According to the Agency, Next Generation Compliance “takes advantage of new information and monitoring technologies to enable EPA, states, and tribes to get better compliance results, and tackle today’s compliance challenges.” EPA’s Next Generation Compliance supports EPA’s new “E-Enterprise initiative” by “promoting electronic reporting, advanced monitoring, and transparency.” Electronic reporting, the Agency asserts, will allow for more accurate and timely information on pollution sources, and provide public access to pollution and compliance information.

EPA’s draft of the Next Generation Compliance paradigm is focused on five areas:

  1. Designing regulations and permits that are easier to implement, with a goal of improved compliance and environmental outcomes.
  2. Using and promoting advanced emissions/pollutant detection technology so that regulated entities, the government, and the public can more easily see quantified pollutant discharges, environmental conditions, and noncompliance.
  3. Shifting toward electronic reporting by regulated entities so that we have more accurate, complete, and timely information on pollution sources, pollution, and compliance, saving time and money while improving effectiveness and public transparency.
  4. Expanding transparency by making the information we have today more accessible, and making new information obtained from advanced emissions monitoring and electronic reporting more readily available to the public.
  5. Developing and using innovative enforcement approaches (e.g., data analytics and targeting) to achieve more widespread compliance.

Obvious in this proposed strategy is the Agency’s steady movement toward requiring that regulatory filings be both filed electronically AND immediately accessible to the public. We have blogged on the Agency’s work in to enable this sort of electronic reporting, such as in its waste e-manifest rulemaking and its Clean Water Act e-filing rulemaking. These sorts or electronic reports and data filings, if readily accessible to the public, may well end up bringing continuous scrutiny to regulated entities, and likely will bring and facilitate more citizen law suits. Regulated entities should act now to put into place systems, policies, procedures, and training that will ensure the facilities and processes are in constant compliance.

Comments on the Strategic Plan are due on or before January 3, 2014.