Next Generation Compliance and Enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

March 31, 2014
By Kevin Rowe MPP 14

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “top cop” Cynthia Giles MC/MPA 00 talked new enforcement strategies and monitoring technologies to the Regulatory Policy Program Seminar on March 27. Giles said the strategies and technologies are enabling the EPA to improve compliance even as the agency faces persistent budget restrictions.

“Enforcement is the backbone of environmental protection laws,” said Giles, but non-compliance is pervasive and “a much bigger problem than most people think.”

Giles has adopted a tough stance toward facilities that violate the law. She recounted a series of recent enforcement actions in which the EPA is leveraging the threat of civil and criminal penalties to motivate facilities to clean up.

Giles, the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the EPA, emphasized that enforcement alone is not sufficient to bring about broad compliance with EPA rules. The single most effective strategy for increasing compliance, Giles argued, is writing better regulations. Looking across federal agencies, regulations that “make compliance the default” for regulated parties consistently generate the best compliance results. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, has built in to payroll taxes a clever verification scheme: requiring both employers and employees to report payroll income makes it difficult for either party to cheat.

Newly available advanced monitoring techniques – which are less expensive, smaller, and more accurate than technologies of the past – have an important role to play in strengthening compliance. In some cases, these techniques have allowed neighbors of polluting facilities to monitor environmental quality and work directly with facility managers to reduce pollution.

Giles showed video clips of new monitoring camera technology that allows the EPA to visualize previously invisible air emissions like volatile organic compounds. Many facility managers, when presented with credible information about unlawful emissions, move quickly to correct problems.

Another promising development mentioned by Giles is the growing use of electronic reporting, which makes it easier both for facility managers to submit compliance information and for agencies to identify problems and take corrective action quickly.

Together, these many new ways of assuring compliance are strengthening the EPA’s “backbone” and ensuring that the goals of clean air, water, and land are closer to being achieved.

The Spring 2014 New Directions in Regulation Seminar series is sponsored by the Regulatory Policy Program at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. For information please visit http://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/mrcbg/programs/rpp/seminars

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Cynthia Giles MC/MPA 00, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA

Cynthia Giles MC/MPA 00, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA

"Enforcement is the backbone of environmental protection laws."