The US EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has recently published its final National Compliance Initiatives (NCIs) for FY 2020-2023, setting out its new enforcement and compliance areas of focus.  Formerly known as the National Enforcement Initiatives (NEIs), the newly-renamed NCIs reflect OECA’s shift toward compliance assurance.  EPA believes the name change helps better convey the goal of the NCIs, which is to reduce the average time from violation identification to correction. In doing so, the Agency seeks to use a collaborative approach, working with other federal, state, and local actors to help resolve violations and provide compliance resources.  In its notice, EPA endorses the use of a “full range of compliance tools,” including informal actions, state-led guidance, and the use of federal civil or criminal enforcement where necessary.

The EPA published its proposed set of NCIs in the Federal Register on February 8, 2019. A previous post discussed the proposed initiatives in detail, including EPA’s planned retention of three existing initiatives, returning some initiatives to their program offices, transitioning two existing initiatives to be less focused on specific industries, and proposing two new NCIs – one focusing on drinking water safety and one seeking to reduce children’s lead exposure. The EPA took comments on its proposals until March 11, 2019. The final NCIs were recently released as part of OECA’s National Program Guidance for FY 2020-2021.

Many of EPA’s proposed NCIs appeared relatively unscathed in the final form; however, there are a few changes from the proposals. First, the existing NCI addressing energy extraction activities (which EPA had proposed to modify to focus on VOCs) was folded into the extension of the existing initiative to reduce hazardous air pollutants.  EPA added a new NCI targeting the use of aftermarket defeat devices for vehicles and engines.  EPA’s proposed NCI targeting reductions in the noncompliance rate for drinking water standards in community systems was included.  This initiative calls for a 25 percent reduction in noncompliance rates among community water systems by 2022. Notably absent from the final NCI list is the addition of the proposed NCI aimed at reducing children’s exposure to lead; instead, it was included in the “core” list of priorities to be addressed by regional EPA offices and state agencies.

The final list of NCIs includes the following:

  • Creating Cleaner Air for Communities by Reducing Excess Emissions of Harmful Pollutants from Stationary Sources
  • Reducing Hazardous Air Emissions from Hazardous Waste Facilities
  • Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines
  • Reducing Significant Noncompliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permits
  • Reducing Noncompliance with Drinking Water Standards at Community Water Systems
  • Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities

In promulgating these initiatives, the EPA emphasizes its cooperative approach to working with tribal and state authorities to promote environmental compliance. Accompanying the NCIs in the National Program Guidance are a host of guidance documents and plans that aim to help states and localities implement the initiatives, including an interim guide on enhancing regional-state planning that focuses on enhancing planning and communication between the EPA and states in civil enforcement and compliance assurance goals.  Please contact Brooks Smith or Patrick Fanning with questions regarding the NCIs.