UPDATE: EPA has announced they will be ending these policies on August 31, 2020.
The COVID-19 outbreak is affecting businesses — from creating labor challenges to shutting them down altogether. As a result, you may not be able to meet your EPA or state environmental obligations. During this time, what is EPA doing about enforcement?
EPA has issued a guidance document on how it will conduct enforcement for noncompliance. Basically, the overall message is to communicate, document-document-document and do your best to make a good faith effort to comply.
EPA is leaving discretion to the states on how they want to handle noncompliance. So although in this article we are going to cover what EPA says (and what iSi’s experience has been with state agencies lately) ALWAYS double check with your state or your permitting agency because what they say will be the overall direction you will need to follow. Better yet, keeping in contact with your permitting agency and alerting them of potential noncompliance is likely the best policy because if their policies differ, they will be able to tell you so. Always document your conversations or communications for your files.
Overall EPA Guidance
EPA wants your company to make every effort to comply, but if you cannot,
- Act responsibly until you can;
- Identify the nature of what your noncompliance will be, on what dates, and the reasons why COVID-19 was the cause;
- Document the steps you are going to take to become compliant,
- Work to become compliant ASAP; and,
- Document all actions and reasons and keep those in your files.
EPA understands that staffing may be limited and resources like contractors and laboratories may affect your compliance status. So until further notice from EPA, they will not be penalizing the following actions if they agree with you that COVID-19 was the legitimate cause of your noncompliance:
- Lab Analysis
- Integrity Testing
Although training is on that list, EPA says they expect you to maintain your training certifications as there are a number of online alternatives available. An example where they would excuse noncompliance is if you needed to make a choice between having certified and qualified operators running your operations vs. sending them to training. They would prefer you to keep operations running if that was the only choice you had.
Resume bi-annual and annual reporting as soon as possible and submit late reports as soon as possible. If your report requires a handwritten signature, it can be digitally signed. If you miss a sampling or monitoring episode, you will not need to make it up later if it is typically conducted in intervals of 3 months or less.
If possible, continue to conduct your weekly inspections. If you have containers onsite that will exceed the number of days you can store them, such as a 90-day storage limit, continue to properly store and label them until you can get them removed. EPA will not consider you a TSDF (treatment, storage and disposal facility) if you go past the date. If you are a Small Quantity Generator or a Very Small Quantity Generator, you will retain your generator status if you go past the date.
Ensure you document everything and put it in your records.
Get very familiar with your permits and what they say about notifications during shutdowns. In some permits, there may be a reference to emergency episode plans that typically address equipment failures, but see if they say anything about temporary shutdowns. Some permits may also mention that temporary shutdowns may cause less emissions during shutdown, then exceedances when the equipment is refired. You may have to give a notification in both instances.
If you cannot find anything, double check with your permitting agency and then document any phone calls or emails. Self-reporting shows good faith efforts on your part.
Every permit may be different, so check what yours says about shutdowns. Many permits will mention that you must notify if there will be a “significant change,” and a shutdown would be a significant change. You will likely need to continue doing weekly inspections and sampling. For shutdowns over extended periods, when you return to service, you may need to do weekly sampling for a set term to prove you’re in compliance.
When any part that is covered by your permit is removed from service, you’ll need to notify the permit authority to ensure the water and the environment is protected.
Stormwater regulations vary from state to state and in some areas, city to city. Most will have quarterly inspections and rain event sampling. Continue to do that whenever possible. If you cannot, contact your local stormwater authority and/or document the reasons why this cannot be accomplished.
Spill Prevention, Control and Countermesure (SPCC)
Most SPCC plans require monthly inspections. Continue to do these, and if for some reason you cannot, document the reasons why.
Public Water Supply
For those who operate public water supplies, it needs to be run business as usual. EPA has specifically called out this operation as critical to public safety and health. If you are having staffing or laboratory issues, you need to work with your state to get these issues solved.
If you have an accidental release or an equipment failure that causes an exceedance which can affect the environment, this needs to be handled business as usual as well. You need to stop the release, mitigate the affects of it as quickly as possible, and still make all the necessary notifications.
If you have questions about what you need to do, or need us to help while your own staffs are short, please contact us!