By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just announced its Final Fiscal Year 2014-2018 EPA Strategic Plan (April 10, 2014). We had previously blogged about the Draft Strategic Plan.

According to EPA’s Administrator, Gina McCarthy, “EPA will address the increasingly complex array of environmental challenges we face by advancing a rigorous research and development agenda that informs and supports our policy and decision making with timely and innovative technology and sustainable solutions.” “We are heeding President Obama’s call for action on climate change, the biggest challenge for our generation and those to come by building strong partnerships at home and around the world. We are working to mitigate this threat by reducing carbon pollution and other greenhouse-gas emissions and by focusing on efficiency improvements in homes, buildings and appliances.”

EPA’s five strategic goals include:

  • Addressing climate change and improving air quality;
  • Protecting America’s waters;
  • Cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development;
  • Ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution; and
  • Protecting human health and the environment by enforcing laws and assuring compliance.

A focus of the Strategy is EPA’s new “Next Generation Compliance” paradigm, meant 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.” Draft Strategic Plan, page 42.

EPA’s Next Generation Compliance supports EPA’s new “E-Enterprise initiative” by “promoting electronic reporting, advanced monitoring, and transparency.” In fact, the Agency posits, “this initiative will move us from using paper to electronic transactions, increase the use of advanced monitoring technologies to obtain better, more complete information on environmental conditions and pollution sources, and deliver data that is transparent, readily available, and understandable to EPA, the states, and the general public. Through E-Enterprise, the entire environmental protection enterprise (federal, state, local, and tribal partners) will be able to regularly conduct two-way business electronically in an integrated way, reducing costs while enhancing environmental protection.” Page 64.

EPA’s 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.

Page 69-70.

Obvious in this 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 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 of 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. As such, regulated entities should review their policies, procedures, and training programs to ensure their facilities and processes are in constant compliance.