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EPA responds to Argus Leader editorial
Release Date: 2/25/2003
Release Date: 2/25/2003
Your February 19, 2003, editorial, AEPA fails in its Mission@ is incomplete and, thus, misleading to your readers.
The Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) regulations have existed since 1974 and are currently a part of the Oil Pollution Act. Companies conducting activities under these regulations have had 29 years to come into compliance. EPA has made numerous efforts to ensure that people knew what was required. Since the late 1970s, enforcement actions have ensued. In 1992, EPA provided South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with a $10,000 grant to educate facilities about SPCC. In the mid-1990s, EPA held workshops in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City. In 1997, EPA conducted SPCC inspections. In August 2001, a workshop was held in Sioux Falls. And finally, in advance of the inspections conducted in 2001, local advertising was purchased - including three notices in the Argus Leader.
In other States where EPA conducted similar information and compliance assistance campaigns, almost 90 percent of the facilities were found to be in compliance. But when we conducted inspections in South Dakota, 46 of 48 facilities were not in compliance.
EPA inspects facilities to ensure that the law is being followed, not to provide additional compliance assistance. Once violations are found, enforcement of the law is next. All but one of the companies in the Sioux Falls area were informed of their inspections either during the visit to the facility or within 30 days after the inspector left the site (some facilities are unmanned). Because EPA recognizes that many of these facilities are small businesses, Aexpedited settlements@ were offered to 32 of the facilities. Facilities that accept expedited settlements are required to correct the deficiencies immediately and are then assessed penalties of $2,500 or less, a significant reduction in the potential fine. Congress has authorized fines of up to $27,500 per day for businesses found in violation.
Notwithstanding the above assistance and flexibility EPA has provided, we have received complaints regarding our recent enforcement actions. While I believe that we exceeded every responsibility which we have under the law, I also believe that good government must honestly evaluate criticism directed its way. I have therefore decided to take several actions. First, I have directed my staff to collect feedback in regard to the process and results of the expedited settlements used in South Dakota. EPA must remain mindful of small businesses and determine if such programs effectively support our goals of faster and more effective environmental protection. EPA staff will be attending DENR=s AEnvironmental and Ground Water Quality Conference@ scheduled for March 18-20, 2003, in Pierre. EPA is currently scheduled to talk about SPCC regulations on March 20. In addition to this presentation, EPA representatives will be available on March 21, 2003, in the Sioux Falls area to gather feedback on the expedited settlement process. Second, EPA has set up a website at www.epaosc.org/sdspcc where information on SPCC can be obtained and feedback can be directed.
The truth is, no one wants to put our environment at risk. EPA values the opportunity to assist the regulated community in complying with the law. In this case, we made extensive efforts to educate and assist businesses prior to the inspections. Enforcement actions are sometimes necessary to ensure that laws are taken seriously and the environment is protected. And, businesses must be treated fairly. The two facilities that were found to be in compliance had taken the time and spent the money to do the right thing. The other 46 should have done the same.
Robert E. Roberts
EPA Region 8