In its latest National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) makes the connection between compliance assurance and climate change. On September 28, 2023, USEPA directed all enforcement and compliance programs to address climate, wherever appropriate, in every matter within their area. To meet this challenge, USEPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance will incorporate climate-related solutions and measures to reduce, prevent, and prepare for the impacts of climate change in its criminal, civil, cleanup, and federal facility enforcement actions.
USEPA’s Climate Enforcement and Compliance Strategy directs all USEPA criminal, civil, cleanup and federal facilities activities to apply the following:
- Prioritize enforcement and compliance actions to mitigate climate change.
- Include climate adaptation and resilience requirements in case conclusions whenever appropriate.
- Provide technical assistance to achieve climate-related solutions and build climate change capacity among USEPA staff and its state and local partners.
USEPA continues the heightened focus on compliance assurance as a method to improve environmental outcomes.
Other USEPA Climate Change Initiatives
This follows last month’s announcement of USEPA’s first-ever NECI on climate change, which will target methane (CH4) emissions from oil and gas facilities and landfills, as well as illegal importation of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in violation of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act , which phases down production and consumption of HFCs. Both methane and HFCs are greenhouse gases (GHGs). Fluorinated gases, such as HFCs, are emitted from a variety of household, commercial, and industrial applications and processes. Applications include commercial and industrial refrigeration, air conditioning systems, heat pump equipment, blowing agents for foams, fire extinguishants, aerosol propellants, and solvents.
USEPA is required to enforce the full array of current and future climate rules, including, but not limited to, GHG reporting requirements and limits on other climate pollutants, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The Climate Enforcement and Compliance Strategy directs USEPA staff to “embrace climate-related solutions, whenever appropriate…so that entities in both criminal and civil enforcement matters factor climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience into their operations.”
Why Regulate Greenhouse Gases?
Specific regulation of GHG emissions stem from USEPA’s December 7, 2009, scientific determination known as the “endangerment finding.” Based on an extensive review of scientific evidence, USEPA made a broad determination that GHG emissions did endanger public health and welfare. It also ruled that emissions from motor vehicles would cause or contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key GHGs and, hence, to the threat to public health and welfare from climate change. With the endangerment finding released, USEPA was then required to regulate GHG emissions from motor vehicles under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. Through rulemaking, USEPA addresses other sources of GHGs, including industrial facilities with major new or modified stationary sources of GHGs.
What are Greenhouse Gases?
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, CO2, CH4, N2O, and fluorinated gases, are called GHGs. CO2 is the primary GHG emitted through human activities. The combustion of fossil fuels to transport people and goods accounts for the largest source of CO2 emissions, with electricity generation and industry rounding out the top three sources of CO2 emissions. Larger emissions of GHGs lead to higher concentrations in the atmosphere where it can remain for anywhere from a few years to thousands of years. Each GHG has various levels of effectiveness in making the planet warmer and thickening the Earth’s atmospheric blanket, trapping heat and contributing to global warming. CO2 is constantly being exchanged among the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface, as it is both produced and absorbed by many microorganisms, plants, and animals; however, this exchange does not remove all of the CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere.
Find Out More About USEPAs NECIs
USEPA has established NECIs for over 25 years but this is the first time that focus has been put on mitigating climate change by reducing GHG emissions. The Memorandum summarizing the FY 2024 – 2027 NECIs can be found at FY 2024 – 2027 National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (epa.gov).
Addressing GHG emissions is not a one-size-fits-all effort, and policies differ throughout the world. USEPA plans to use the traditional tools of criminal and civil enforcement (both judicial and administrative) as well as informal enforcement and compliance assurance tools to ensure accountability and encourage greater environmental compliance. The bottom line is that climate change continues to be identified as a top enforcement priority for USEPA, and enforcement actions will consider climate solutions including GHG reduction.