From The Editor | December 2, 2013

EPA Goes 'Next Generation' With Regulatory Compliance Program


By Kevin Westerling,

Inspired by new technology and an evolved philosophy, the EPA changes its approach to pollution-control rulemaking and compliance.

The U.S. government, in its continuous effort to take advantage of the latest technology, is introducing the “Next Generation Compliance” program. While the transparency and technical aspect of this initiative may give some water and wastewater system operators pause, there are some real advantages to the program.

Cynthia Giles, the EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, outlined these advantages in a recent article. Essentially, Next Generation Compliance entails the adoption of advanced monitoring and the transfer from paper reporting to electronic reporting. The transition hopes to achieve the following:

  • Faster, cheaper, and more accurate data logging
  • Increased public awareness and operational diligence through data transparency
  • Information-sharing among facilities and with the government for improved compliance

How exactly this program will manifest itself remains to be seen, but the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Electronic Reporting Rule has already been proposed and is working its way through the regulatory process. The rule will require electronic submission of all NPDES data to a central database, allowing for more accurate and easily accessible data, which will in turn enable better and faster decision-making. The improved transparency, according to the EPA’s Giles, should also compel facilities to improve performance.

The plan for the EPA is also to pre-approve plant equipment that would serve to ensure — and therefore simplify — regulatory compliance. State-of-the-art water and wastewater instrumentation, in concert with e-reporting, will allow the EPA to make more pollution and compliance data available to the public, accessed through ECHO (Enforcement and Compliance History Online). Furthermore, online data and communication will allow facilities to learn from each other through shared information, in addition to receiving compliance assistance from the government.

According to Giles, facilities are free to use e-reporting tools provided by the private sector, which she admits are potentially “cheaper and more user-friendly than what government can provide… with no additional cost to the taxpayer.”

The strategy touted by Giles is part of the EPA’s developing mission to write rules that “achieve the desired result without requiring court action.” That desired result is a higher rate of compliance. Though not a rule in and of itself, the guiding principles of the Next Generation Compliance program is sure to result in rules (e.g. Electronic Reporting) that will surface in 2014 and beyond.

Will the Next Generation Compliance program truly improve, simplify, and reduce the cost of compliance?  Share your thoughts and predictions for the EPA initiative below…