The U.S. EPA has announced its National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives for 2024-2027, outlining its priorities in addressing environmental problems. This latest set of priorities includes first-time initiatives to mitigate exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
EPA said that it will also integrate environmental justice considerations into each of its National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives.
Every four years, across administrations, EPA selects enforcement and compliance priorities so that the agency and its state partners can prioritize resources to address the most serious and widespread environmental problems facing the United States. In addition to climate change, PFAS contamination, and coal ash initiatives, EPA is modifying its Clean Air Act initiative to focus on hazardous toxic air pollution in overburdened communities in each EPA region and is continuing its drinking water and chemical accident prevention initiatives that began under prior administrations.
“EPA’s new national initiatives address urgent 21st century environmental problems, while upholding the rule of law to level the playing field for law-abiding companies and promoting a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance David M. Uhlmann. “Working closely with our state partners, EPA enforcement efforts will mitigate climate change and limit exposure to the scourge of PFAS contamination, while addressing the reality that, for too long in the United States, the worst effects of pollution have plagued overburdened communities.”
In selecting initiatives for the FY 2024-2027 cycle, EPA used three criteria to evaluate existing initiatives and to consider new initiatives: (1) the need to address serious and widespread environmental issues and significant noncompliance, particularly in overburdened and disadvantaged communities; (2) a focus on areas where federal enforcement authorities, resources, and/or expertise are needed to hold polluters accountable and promote a level playing field; and (3) alignment with the EPA’s broader Strategic Plan, which includes tackling the climate crisis and advancing environmental justice.
The 2024-2027 National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives are:
- Addressing Exposure to PFAS - Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals are toxic, persistent “forever chemicals” that have caused widespread contamination in our air, water, and land throughout the country.
This initiative will focus on implementing EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap and hold responsible those who manufactured PFAS and/or used PFAS in the manufacturing process, federal facilities that released PFAS, and other industrial parties who significantly contributed to the release of PFAS into the environment. Ensuring these entities properly identify and characterize contamination, control ongoing releases, and comply with both existing and future environmental requirements will help address this larger environmental threat.
- Increasing Compliance with Drinking Water Standards - This initiative seeks to ensure that the approximately 50,000 regulated drinking water systems that serve water to residents year-round, referred to as Community Water Systems (CWSs), comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Each year thousands of CWSs continue to violate one or more drinking water standards, exposing millions of people to potential health risks. During the next four years, EPA will ramp up its field presence, take impactful enforcement to increase compliance, and offer more compliance assistance to prevent and address public health risks.
- Chemical Accident Risk Reduction - This initiative seeks to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic chemical releases, and to address the problem of avoidable chemical incidents that continue to occur throughout the country.
Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances. Disastrous fires, leaks, and explosions at these facilities can result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, shelter in place orders, toxic exposure, and other harm to workers, first responders, and neighboring communities. EPA has found significant noncompliance with companies who handle extremely hazardous substances and will target companies that choose not to comply with risk management requirements established to protect public health and safety from extremely hazardous chemical releases.
- Mitigating Climate Change - Tackling the climate crisis is an urgent priority. EPA will use its enforcement and compliance tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping to limit the worst effects of climate change.
The initiative will focus on three separate and significant contributors to climate change:
(1) methane emissions from oil and gas facilities;
(2) methane emissions from landfills; and
(3) the use, importation, and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
EPA has documented widespread noncompliance in all three of these areas, resulting in potentially tens of thousands of tons of unlawful emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. This initiative will help achieve EPA’s goals to combat climate change while also addressing significant noncompliance in specific industry sectors.
- Protecting Communities from Coal Ash Contamination - This initiative will focus on the threat presented by the hundreds of millions of pounds of coal ash, also known as coal combustion residuals (CCR), found throughout our country in on-site landfills, settling ponds, and other coal plant surface impoundments.
Coal ash, a waste product from burning coal for energy, contains contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and other serious health effects. This initiative will focus on the approximately 300 facilities nationwide that are collectively responsible for approximately 775 coal ash units. Neighborhoods located near these facilities are often communities with environmental justice concerns.
- Reducing Air Toxics in Overburdened Communities - This initiative will address the serious threat to communities that comes from unlawful exposure to regulated hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from nearby industry.Many of these pollutants, such as benzene, ethylene oxide, and formaldehyde, are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious neurological, reproductive, developmental, and respiratory health effects when breathed or ingested through the food chain, including harm to children. This initiative will seek to target, investigate, and address noncompliance with clean air standards designed to protect public health, with a focus on sources of HAPs in communities already highly burdened with pollution impacts.