How We Monitor Compliance

Compliance monitoring is one of the key components EPA uses to ensure that the regulated community obeys environmental laws and regulations.  It encompasses all regulatory agency activities performed to determine whether a facility (or group of facilities, such as plants related geographically, by sector, or corporate structure) is in compliance with applicable law.  Compliance monitoring includes:

  • formulation and implementation of compliance monitoring strategies
  • on-site compliance monitoring:  compliance inspections, evaluations, and investigations (including review of permits, data, and other documentation)
  • off-site compliance monitoring:  data collection, review, reporting, program coordination, oversight, and support
  • inspector training, credentialing and support

EPA provides compliance incentives and auditing to encourage facilities to find and disclose violations to the Agency. Violations may also be discovered from tips/complaints received by the Agency from the public. Violations discovered as a result of any of these activities may lead to civil or criminal enforcement.

  • What is an inspection?

    Inspections are an integral part of EPA’s compliance monitoring programs.  They are an important tool for officially assessing compliance with environmental regulations and requirements.  EPA and its regulatory partners conduct compliance inspections under the majority of statutory and regulatory program authorities.

    Inspections are visits to a facility or site (e.g., business, school, landfill) for the purpose of gathering information to determine whether it is in compliance. Inspections generally include pre-inspection activities such as obtaining general site information before entering the facility or site. Other activities that may be conducted during the on-site visit include:

    • interviewing facility or site representatives,
    • reviewing records and reports,
    • taking photographs,
    • collecting samples, and
    • observing facility or site operations.

    Inspections are usually conducted on single-media programs such as the Clean Water Act, but can be conducted for more than one media program. Inspections also can be conducted to address a specific environmental problem (e.g., water quality in a river), a facility or industry sector (e.g., chemical plants), or a geographic (e.g., a region or locality) or ecosystem-based approach (e.g., air or watershed).  The intensity and scope of an inspection can range from a quick walk-through inspection that takes less than half a day, to an inspection with extensive physical sample collection that can take weeks to complete.

  • What is a Clean Air Act Evaluation?

    Clean Air Act Evaluations can be either a Full Compliance Evaluation (FCE) or a Partial Compliance Evaluation (PCE).

    An FCE is a comprehensive evaluation of the compliance status of the facility. It looks for all regulated pollutants at all regulated emission units, and it addresses the compliance status of each unit, as well as the facility’s continuing ability to maintain compliance at each emission unit. An FCE includes:

    • a review of all required reports and the underlying records;
    • an assessment of air pollution control devices and operating conditions;
    • observing visible emissions; a review of facility records and operating logs;
    • an assessment of process parameters, such as feed rates, raw material compositions, and process rates; and
    • a stack test if there is no other way to determine compliance with the emission limits.

    An FCE may be accomplished through a series of Partial Compliance Evaluations.

    A PCE is a documented compliance assessment focusing on a subset of regulated pollutants, regulatory requirements, or emission units at a given facility. A PCE should be more comprehensive than a cursory review of individual reports. It may be conducted solely for the purpose of evaluating a specific aspect of a facility or it may combine several evaluations to satisfy the annual requirements of a FCE.

  • Civil Investigations

    Civil investigations are an extraordinary, detailed assessment of a regulated entity’s compliance status, which requires significantly more time to complete than a typical compliance inspection (i.e., several weeks, as compared with one or a few days).

    Investigations may be warranted when an inspection or record review suggests the potential for serious, widespread, and/or continuing civil or criminal violations, from:

    • a continuing pattern of citizen complaints,
    • referrals from another agency, or from
    • studies conducted by the regulating agency inferring a potential compliance problem.
  • Record Reviews

    Record reviews are a review of records, conducted at the government agency’s offices, for the purposes of reviewing information to determine compliance of a regulated entity. These reviews may be conducted at EPA, state or local offices, and may or may not be combined with field work. Record reviews may be combined with an on-site inspection.  Examples of routinely reviewed records include discharge monitoring reports under the Clean Water Act and Title V permit certifications under the Clean Air Act.

  • Information Requests

    Information requests are an enforceable, written request for information to a regulated entity, a potentially regulated entity, or a potentially responsible party about a site, facility, or activity. Information requests may be warranted when there is:

    • an inspection, site investigation,  or record review suggests the potential for serious, widespread, and/or continuing civil or criminal violations,
    • a continuing pattern of non-compliance by a facility,
    • a referral from another agency,
    • a study or studies conducted by the regulating agency indicating a potential compliance problem.

    These requests normally ask for information on facility operations, records, reports, or other documents to verify or substantiate the compliance status of the facility or the site.

  • EPA's Audit Policy

    The EPA Audit Policy formally titled “Incentives for Self-Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations,” safeguards human health and the environment by providing several major incentives for regulated entities to voluntarily discover, self-report and correct violations of federal environmental laws and regulations. These incentives are for regulated entities that voluntarily discover, promptly disclose and expeditiously correct noncompliance, making formal EPA investigations and enforcement actions unnecessary.

    In addition, EPA developed a series of Environmental Audit Protocols to assist the regulated community in developing self-audit programs at individual facilities for evaluating their compliance with the environmental requirements under the federal laws and regulations. The protocols are intended solely as guidance in this effort. The regulated community's legal obligations are determined by the terms of applicable environmental facility-specific permits and underlying statutes, as well as the applicable state and local laws.

    EPA's Interim Approach to Applying the Audit Policy to New Owners describes incentives tailored for new owners that want to make a “clean start” at their recently acquired facilities by addressing environmental noncompliance that began prior to acquisition. The New Owner Policy is designed to motivate new owners to audit their facilities and to encourage self-disclosures of violations that will, once corrected, yield significant pollutant reductions and benefits to the environment. 

    EPA's Electronic Audit Policy Self-Disclosure System - As of July 1, 2013, EPA decommissioned its web-based system which allowed companies to electronically self-disclose certain violations under EPA’s Audit Policy.  Although eDisclosure has been taken off-line, entities can make still make disclosures. For instructions on how to submit disclosures, please see: “How Do I Make a Voluntary Disclosure Under EPA’s Audit Policy?”

Next Generation Compliance (NextGen)

Monitoring compliance includes more than inspecting facilities.  The traditional inspection is now being augmented by advanced technologies and processes.  NextGen helps reduce costs and saves time and resources, while improving compliance and the accuracy of monitoring and reporting.