EPA Announces Enforcement and Compliance Accomplishments for Fiscal Year 2021

January 24, 2022
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, the EPA worked with state and local partners to achieve greater compliance with federal environmental laws and to address violations with major environmental or human health impacts.
Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (Executive Order 14008), EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) strengthened enforcement of environmental violations with disproportionate impact on communities with environmental justice (EJ) concerns.  EPA continues to pursue a comprehensive strategy that leverages its enforcement authorities as well as additional actions to bring facilities back into compliance to prevent future violations, remediate past harm, and provide tangible benefits for these overburdened and underserved communities.  In  communities that faced acute threats to human health from environmental pollutants or contaminated drinking water, such as St. Croix, VI; Cahokia Heights, IL; and Jackson, MS, EPA used its enforcement authority to take swift action to protect residents.
Since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance also took actions to combat climate change.  OECA partnered with the Office of Air and Radiation to establish a comprehensive program to cap and phase down the production and consumption of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the United States.  The two offices launched an HFC interagency task force to prevent the illegal trade, production, use or sale of HFCs, as well as other measures related to supporting the transition to HFC alternatives, reclamation, and recycling.  A global phasedown of HFCs is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by 2100.
“Administrator Regan has put EPA’s enforcement and compliance program at the core of the Agency’s commitment to protecting and securing environmental benefits for the most overburdened communities in America,” said Larry Starfield, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “To deliver on this commitment, we’ve focused on actions with the highest potential to improve compliance and protect communities. Coming off a challenging few years, these 2021 results make clear that rigorous enforcement is back at EPA.”
Highlights of EPA’s FY 2021 enforcement and compliance achievements include:
  • Commitments of more than $8.5 billion to return facilities to compliance, the highest amount in four years; 28% of those commitments were to address non-compliance in communities with environmental justice concerns.
  • Proper treatment, minimization, or disposal of 7.6 billion pounds of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, more than in all but one of the past eight years.
  • Private and federal party cleanup commitments of $1.9 billion, as well as more than $106.1 million for recovery of past costs the Agency spent cleaning up Superfund sites. The cleanup commitment was the fifth largest amount in the history of the program, and $279 million more than in FY 2020.
  • Assessment of over $1.06 billion in penalties, the highest amount in four years.
  • Twenty-eight years of incarceration for defendants sentenced in criminal enforcement investigations.
Members of the public can help protect our environment by identifying and reporting environmental violations. Learn more here.
Minnesota Company Failed to Conduct More Than 300 Daily Emission Inspections
According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, Ardent Mills, LLC, failed to submit required notifications prior to dismantling and removing air emissions equipment, and starting construction projects to startup new equipment at its flour mill in Hastings.
Other violations included:
  • Missing performance stack tests for particulate matter
  • Failing to conduct daily inspections and keep records of visible emissions and pressure drops on more than 300 occasions
  • Failing to report fabric filter pressure drops that were out of permitted range on more than 40 occasions
  • Missing two annual pressure calibrations
  • Failing to submit required major permit amendments
In addition to paying a $33,311 civil penalty to the MPCA, the company has completed a series of corrective actions, including submitting:
  • Major permit amendments
  • A plan to conduct daily inspections and train staff accordingly
  • A plan to ensure future projects will adhere to permitted changes
  • A plan to ensure pressure differentials remain in permitted ranges
Florida Worker Dies of Heat Exposure
Working in the recesses of Apalachicola National Forest on a July day as temperatures neared 100 degrees, the supervisor of two crews hired to clear invasive plants saw one 42-year-old worker was sweating heavily, his hands were trembling, and he seemed confused, unable to respond to commands.
The worker rested while other employees finished their tasks. Only 30 minutes later, the supervisor returned to the man finding him unresponsive. Without a cell phone signal, workers had to get help from a ranger station, 14 miles away from their job site. By the time an ambulance became available, the worker had stopped breathing and responders found no pulse. Soon after transport to a hospital, doctors pronounced him dead.
An investigation by OSHA of the July 30 incident underscores the need for employers to understand the dangers of hazardous heat in the workplace, and to take action to protect workers from the serious potential consequences.
OSHA investigators found Earthbalance Corp., a North Point-based environmental restoration firm, exposed workers to hazards related to high ambient heat and failed to adequately train a person to perform first aid, and ensure they were available to render assistance in heat-related emergencies. The company faces $24,576 in proposed penalties.
"Earthbalance Corp. failed to protect their employees from the dangers from extreme temperatures and take actions that may have prevented a worker's death," said OSHA Acting Area Director Nolan Houser in Jacksonville, Florida. "We encourage employers to reach out to the agency's staff and use our free resources for recognizing and mitigating heat-related hazards to ensure their workers have every opportunity to return home safely at the end of the day."
With four locations in Florida in North Port, Fort Myers, Saint Cloud and Nocatee, Earthbalance Corp. provides services through the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Each year, OSHA educates employers and workers on the danger of workplace heat exposure. Combining training and outreach events, publications, social media messaging and media appearances to educate employers and workers, the agency summarized its core message in three words: Water. Rest. Shade.
In recent months, OSHA initiated several initiatives to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths while in hazardously hot workplaces. In addition to pursuing a heat-specific workplace rule, OSHA instituted a heat-related enforcement initiative and plans to issue a National Emphasis Program for heat-related safety efforts in 2022.
The agency has also published the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings, Oct. 27, 2021. It is a significant step toward a federal heat standard in the workplace and is open to comments, online until Jan. 26, 2022. Submit comments, identified by Docket No. OSHA-2021-0009, electronically.
EPA Sued over PFAS ‘Secrecy’ Reporting Loopholes
Three national advocacy organizations represented by Earthjustice, sued the EPA in federal court to force the agency to close illegal loopholes that let chemical plants and military bases across the United States avoid disclosing their PFAS emissions into the environment during manufacturing or use of these cancer-causing chemicals.
Under Congress’s 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), PFAS manufacturers and polluters must report on nearly 200 PFAS they manufacture, use or release. The information is compiled by EPA in a public database called the Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI. But due to recently created EPA loopholes, chemical companies and the military can keep the PFAS they produce or dump in the environment secret.
“Thanks to EPA’s loopholes, communities, scientists and lawmakers don’t know which PFAS are being used, in what amounts, or to what extent companies are dumping PFAS in our air or water,” said Laurene Allen, a National PFAS Contamination Coalition leadership team spokesperson, and resident of Merrimack, New Hampshire, where known PFAS-polluter Saint Gobain Performance Plastics operates a major facility. “PFAS remain largely unregulated, so communities depend on accurate reporting to figure out how to advocate for themselves. EPA must close these loopholes immediately and force companies to accurately disclose their PFAS pollution.”
An Earthjustice review of the first data from TRI reports for PFAS, found that entities are either underreporting or not disclosing how they use or dump PFAS in the United States. For example, major PFAS polluters like the Department of Defense, and Saint Gobain Performance Plastics, did not report anything on the TRI. Also, only 39 facilities reported that they produced or processed more than 100 pounds of PFAS in 2020 — a number inexplicably low given the large volume of PFAS manufactured, imported, and used in the country. In addition, nearly half of the facilities that reported having manufactured, processed, or used PFAS in 2020, said that they did not release any PFAS into the environment.
EPA-created loopholes allow chemical companies and military agencies to avoid reporting their PFAS use and pollution if they release less than 500 pounds, and produced up to 1 million pounds of PFAS. EPA also allows secrecy if companies are mixing PFAS with other chemicals, even if dumping in air or water takes place.
“PFAS,” which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of thousands of chemicals that can persist in human bodies and in the environment for decades. Studies show PFAS are linked to cancer, immune system dysfunction, liver and kidney damage. More than 95% of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Chemicals in this class of more than 5,000 substances are found in products like nonstick pans, food packaging, waterproof jackets, and carpets to repel water, grease, and stains. They’re also used in firefighting foam often used on military bases and at commercial airports. Even personal care products like waterproof makeup, dental floss, sunscreen, shampoo, and shaving cream contain PFAS.
In October of 2021, EPA unveiled a roadmap to study and to some extent, regulate PFAS.
Earthjustice is filing this lawsuit on behalf of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Par Hawaii Refining Fined over Clean Air Act Violations
The EPA recently announced a settlement with Par Hawaii Refining, LLC, over Clean Air Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act violations at its oil refining facility on Komohana Street in Kapolei, Hawaii. The facility will pay a $176,899 penalty and implement changes to improve safety and reduce the risk of accidental chemical releases.
“EPA is committed to protecting refinery workers and surrounding communities by ensuring companies implement safety measures and then carefully abide by them,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Settlements like this serve notice to companies that they must follow the law by acting to prevent incidents from occurring. These such efforts help protect workers, communities located near refineries, other potentially at-risk groups, and the environment.”
In March 2016, EPA inspectors found violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention requirements under the facility’s Risk Management Plan (RMP), as well as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA). These included process safety information errors, such as inaccurate piping and machine diagrams. EPA also found several operating procedures that were unclear, not current, and were missing information, in addition to mechanical integrity failures. Other violations included failures to immediately notify the state emergency response commission and the local emergency planning committee of releases of sulfur dioxide above the reportable quantity, which occurred on several occasions in 2014 and 2015.
A separate settlement was reached in February 2021 with another Par Hawaii facility in Kapolei for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Under the settlement, in addition to paying a penalty, Par Hawaii Refinery will complete a set of compliance tasks to ensure appropriate equipment operating conditions. Par Hawaii must certify completion of all tasks before December 2023.
When properly implemented, an RMP may help prevent accidental chemical releases and minimize impacts to public health and the environment at facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances and flammable chemicals. Under federal law, the facility’s RMP must be up to date and resubmitted at least once every five years. RMPs are used by EPA to assess chemical risks to surrounding communities and to prepare for emergency responses.
EPA and World Health Organization Partner to Protect Public Health
The EPA and World Health Organization (WHO) recently signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The agreement continues EPA-WHO collaboration on a wide range of specific and crosscutting environment and health issues, particularly air pollution, water and sanitation, children’s health, and health risks due to climate change.  The updated agreement includes exciting new actions on crosscutting issues including infrastructure and environmental justice.
“I am proud to renew EPA’s commitment to working with the WHO to protect the public from the health risks of pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The United States is committed to working closely with WHO, a global leader in protecting human health for all, with a particular focus on addressing the needs of vulnerable and underserved communities.  As we face new challenges from climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, this collaboration with the WHO has never been more critical.”
EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment fully aligns with WHO’s charge to lead global efforts to promote health for everyone, everywhere. The WHO estimates that 24% of all global deaths, and 28% of deaths among children under five, are linked to the environment, and people in low- and middle-income countries bear the greatest disease burden.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the intimate links between humans and our environment,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Addressing those links is essential to prevent diseases, including future pandemics, to promote health, drive the global recovery and reduce health risks associated with climate change, especially for the most vulnerable. WHO looks forward to continuing its longstanding collaboration with US EPA, and to tapping EPA’s expertise to advance our mission to support countries in meeting the challenges of environmental health.”
EPA and WHO have a long history of collaboration on the most pressing public health issues of our time. Over three decades, this cooperation has included work on climate change, indoor and outdoor air quality, children’s environmental health, chemicals and toxics, water and sanitation, and quantifying the environmental burden of disease.
Over the next five years, EPA and WHO will focus on addressing the health impacts of climate change. Ongoing efforts will address many environmental determents of health affected by climate change, including clean air and safe drinking water. Collaboration will also continue to focus on protecting children by reducing exposure to toxic substances, in particular lead-based paint.
In this MOU, EPA and WHO have established new areas of cooperation to advance shared priorities around crosscutting issues including addressing the disproportionate impacts of environmental challenges on underserved and vulnerable communities. Protecting these populations and increasing access to decision-making is at the core of Administrator Regan’s vision for the EPA. WHO’s Triple Billion targets outline an ambitious plan for the world to achieve good health for all.  Both EPA and WHO prioritize using science as the basis for policies and programs to address environmental health impacts.
WHO also overseas global coordination efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. EPA is also contributing to COVID-19 response with efforts to register disinfectants for SARS-CoV-2 and researching into antimicrobial products and studies of ways to disinfect personal protective equipment so that it could be reused. EPA has worked to early warning systems by monitoring wastewater for the presence of SARS-Cov-2. The two agencies will continue to advance biodefence science to respond to the current pandemic and be better prepared for all biothreats in the future.
Settlement Reached over Wetlands Violations in Boise
The EPA and Barber Valley Development, Inc., have settled a case the agency brought after the company illegally discharged sand, gravel, and rocks into wetlands adjacent to Council Spring Creek in Boise, Idaho.
In EPA orders issued in May and June 2021, EPA alleged the company failed to apply to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a Clean Water Act permit for flood control work it was conducting on a transmission line corridor owned by Idaho Power. Council Spring Creek and its wetlands are connected to and provide flows to the Boise River.
Barber Valley agreed to remove the unauthorized fill material, restore the site, and enhance important forested wetland habitat adjacent to the Boise River and Alta Harris Creek, and to pay a $7500 penalty. This work will support diverse and abundant wildlife, such as raptors, small mammals, deer, coyote, elk, and possibly the endangered yellow-billed cuckoo which may use the Snake River Valley for breeding purposes.
The restoration work at the site and at the forested wetland will be completed by December 2022.
An overarching goal of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. A more specific federal goal is “No Net Loss” of wetlands by first avoiding, then minimizing, and finally compensating for any impacts to aquatic resources caused by the discharge of dredge or fill material into waters of the United States.
Wetlands protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, store floodwaters, and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. EPA works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to coordinate field research, damage assessments, and legal proceedings against entities who conduct unauthorized activities (e.g., dredging, filling, grading without a permit) in waters of the United States.
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