By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On March 2, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on EPA’s procedures for conducting on-site civil inspections. This final rule applies to on-site inspections conducted by EPA civil inspectors, federal contractors, and Senior Environmental Employment employees conducting inspections on behalf of EPA.
This rule is effective March 2, 2020.
This rule explains how EPA inspectors should conduct on-site civil administrative inspections and addresses common elements applicable to on-site civil inspections for compliance with environmental laws.
The elements of the process for conducting on-site civil inspections, and some EPA guidance regarding each element, is as follows.
- Timing of Inspections and Facility Notification -- EPA inspectors should generally conduct inspections during the facility's normal work hours and take reasonable steps to work with the facility to agree on a workable schedule for accessing areas for the inspection.
- Inspector Qualifications -- EPA inspectors must hold a valid credential to perform the inspection, which are issued to inspectors that have completed relevant training.
- Obtaining Consent to Enter -- Upon arrival at a facility, EPA inspectors shall present their valid EPA Inspector Credentials to a facility employee, describe the authority and purpose of the inspection, and where possible seek the facilities' consent to enter. Inspectors are required under certain statutes to advise facility personnel that they can deny entry, but EPA may then seek a warrant for entry.
- Opening Conference -- The EPA inspector shall request an opening conference with available facility representatives or employees, where practicable. The EPA inspector shall discuss the overall objectives of the inspection and may request access to/copies of facility records and request to interview facility employees, as necessary.
- Physical Inspection -- EPA inspectors shall inspect the areas, units, sources and processes relevant to the scope of the inspection. The inspectors will generally document their observations with photos and notes.
- Managing Confidential Business Information (CBI) -- Pursuant to existing statutory and regulatory requirements, inspectors shall complete appropriate, statute-specific, CBI training before managing CBI. The EPA inspectors shall manage all CBI claims made by a facility during an inspection in accordance with 40 CFR part 2, subpart B.
- Interview Facility Personnel -- EPA inspectors may conduct interviews of facility personnel as appropriate. Interviews may include, but are not limited to, the environmental contacts, process operators, contractors, maintenance personnel, process engineers, control room operators, and other employees working in the area(s) of interest.
- Records Review -- Once the records requested by the EPA inspector are assembled, the EPA inspector shall review any records relevant to the facility inspection/field investigation. EPA inspectors may request copies of many different types of records (paper, electronically scanned, downloaded or recorded through other digital storage devices), when appropriate, and record copies of records taken from the facility. An EPA inspector may request records before, during, or after an inspection.
- Sampling -- EPA inspectors may take samples when appropriate. Where applicable and practicable, during the opening conference, the inspector shall offer facility personnel the opportunity to obtain split samples or to collect duplicate samples.
- Closing Conference -- EPA inspectors shall offer a closing conference with available facility employees, as practicable, to discuss any outstanding questions or missing documents and the process for follow up. EPA inspectors may also discuss next steps and how the facility will be contacted on the results of the inspection and identify the appropriate point of contact for further communication and coordination. EPA inspectors may also summarize any potential “areas of concern” identified in the inspection.
- Inspection Reports -- After an inspection, EPA shall share an inspection report with the facility. The content and format of the report may vary depending on the facility, type of the inspection, and the statutory authority upon which the inspection is based.
EPA states this rule was issued to fulfill the objectives outlined in Executive Order 13892 (Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication). In addition to this rule, companies can find more detailed information in EPA’s FIFRA Inspection Manual, most recently updated in August 2019, and available here.