New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

  • In January, I released a memo asking all enforcement staff to include Next Gen tools in settlements where appropriate. We’ve been integrating Next Gen into settlements for a while – for example, a recent settlement with Total Petroleum requires them to install advanced equipment to detect leaks from underground storage tanks, providing alerts to a centralized location so that suspected releases and equipment failures can be responded to quickly. The January memo formalizes our evolving practice to further integrate Next Gen tools into our work. In fact, the memo includes ten examples where Next Gen tools are already included, reaping public health benefits.
  • It’s also important to get out into the states – the front lines of most of our environmental protection programs – and share Next Gen tools. That’s why EPA staff have visited 13 states over the past year to help increase their familiarity with Next Gen, learn what they are already doing, explore collaboration opportunities, and share best practices. We’ve provided 11 states and local governments with infrared cameras that can detect emissions that are invisible to the naked eye, like what may be leaking from tanks at refineries. This technology is truly game changing – not only does it help protect the health of fenceline communities, but it also can significantly improve compliance.
  • The GW conference underscored all the technologies that are being developed to empower citizens, cities and companies to take action to tackle pollution challenges in their communities. Geospatial monitoring technology is developing rapidly to allow measurement of air pollutants in real time. The data can be overlaid on Google Earth to show the concentrations of pollutants in any given community. And more cities are now able to notify the public when heavy storms result in a release of raw sewage. Just as you can get text messages with traffic and weather updates, the reports are being fed to alert systems and pushed out to residents.

It’s clear that Next Gen is taking hold among federal and state partners, and among the public, too. It’s no longer just a future-looking strategy, it’s here and now.

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