Environmental compliance refers to the practice of conforming to environmental laws and regulations. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in sensitization on the importance of environmental law and compliance. Many countries and organizations are increasingly integrating environmental concerns and compliance activities to prevent conflicts, overlaps, and gaps. Compliance involves managing monitoring programs or schedules, data validation to ensure compliance, and generating routine compliance reports. These complex and time-consuming processes have led to the increased use of compliance software to manage environmental compliance.
How Environmental Law and Compliance Works
To address environmental problems, environment regulatory authorities such as the EPA use various strategies that combine incentives, compliance assistance, and monitoring and enforcement tools. Compliance assistance helps businesses, industries, and governments to understand and meet their environmental obligations. As the name suggests, incentives are designed to provide new and innovative ways of meeting environmental obligations. Monitoring and enforcement help ensure compliance with state or federal environmental regulations, laws, and standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) educates business owners and industry leaders on environmental law. It creates various compliance assistance tools to help organizations, industries, and governments understand environmental law so that they can meet their environmental requirements. These tools include resources and guidance documents for compliance assistance, compliance assistance centers, compliance assistance hotlines, and the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. These tools help small businesses and organizations meet their environmental compliance goals and find valuable information on environmental law.
Integrated into compliance and enforcement tools are incentives that are designed to encourage self-policing and disclosure of violations of environmental laws. Compliance incentives help to ensure better environmental results. Some of the incentives provided by environmental regulatory agencies include a self-auditing policy for disclosing compliance as well as information and guides for better environmental practices. Some environmental protection agencies recognize and reward organizations and businesses that comply with standards beyond current requirements.
Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement
One of the best means of ensuring environmental compliance is by implementing effective monitoring and compliance assessment policies. Without compliance, laws and regulations may have little or no impact. There are various ways of ensuring that businesses and public facilities comply with environmental laws and regulations including inspections, self-reporting, investigations, and targeted information gathering.
Environmental protection agencies often conduct regular on-site inspections of public facilities to determine compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Some of the issues under inspection include whether proper permits are available, if hazardous materials are properly labeled and handled by hazardous waste disposal specialists, and if emergency plans are in place.
Businesses and industries may be asked to routinely monitor certain aspects of their operations that affect the environment including emissions and discharges and to report their findings to the government. Businesses that fail to self-monitor or provide inaccurate information are considered to have potential compliance problems.
Environmental protection agencies may require businesses and industries to carry out specific self-testing and disclose the results of their findings to the agencies. The agencies may also examine the records of businesses to determine when they bought pollution equipment, how much the equipment cost, and when it was installed. The EPA has been given broad authorities to gather information from businesses and industries if it suspects violations.
Although effective compliance monitoring programs help to detect violations, enforcement response policies help to instruct the environmental protection agency on how to respond to violations in a timely and efficient manner. When it comes to environmental law and compliance, timeliness is extremely important. A timely enforcement response is more efficient and effective in preventing future violations than a delayed response with significant penalties.
An effective response strategy is the one that provides a range of legal sanctions or responses including informal response, administrative enforcement, judicial enforcement, criminal enforcement, and cleanup enforcement. An informal response involves notifying violators and requesting them to come into compliance without taking further legal action. Administrative response requires the issuance of an administrative order to compel compliance. Violators may be requested pay monetary penalties for past violations. On the other hand, in a judicial response, the EPA may initiate a civil lawsuit against businesses or industries violating environmental law. However, the most powerful environmental law enforcement tool is criminal enforcement, which allows the EPA to pursue criminal investigations on serious violators. Lastly, cleanup enforcement requires violators to do the cleanup of hazardous materials from the environment and contaminated sites.
Trends in Environmental Law and Compliance
Shrinking Carbon Footprints
In recent years, businesses, industries, and governments are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint. However, the greatest challenge they face is the wide gap between the required resources and the available resources for achieving low carbon emissions. Emerging markets like the BRICS are creating a huge demand for energy, which poses a risk in relation to carbon emissions. However, many businesses and governments are taking various steps to reduce their carbon footprint including having paperless offices, using energy efficient lighting, and recycling.
Shift to Renewable Energy
With increased demand for energy and need to reduce over-reliance on non-renewable energy, many governments are increasingly focusing on finding energy from renewable and clean energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro electric power. However, renewable energy is often more expensive to exploit than non-renewable energy. However, with increased technological advances, renewable energy is expected to be cheaper than non-renewable energy.
Businesses all over the world are becoming increasingly alive to the fact that compliance with environmental laws and implementing sustainable business practices do not just help to protect the environment, but they also lead to higher profits. Today, businesses are working hard to shrink their carbon footprints and shift towards renewable energy and greener products and services. Environmental compliance is seen as a competitive advantage rather than an expensive requirement for doing business.