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Release Date: 08/19/94
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EPA today extended a helping hand to small businesses willing to seek help to comply with national environmental laws. EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has issued a new Enforcement Response Policy (ERP) designed to encourage small businesses to call on state Small Business Assistance Programs (SBAPs) established under Section 507 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to find practical ways to comply with the Act. The policy provides states with two options for providing compliance assistance as required by Section 507 of the Clean Air Act. It offers states the flexibility to use innovative approaches for providing compliance assistance to small businesses, while at the same time enabling states to continue to use enforcement actions to ensure strict compliance with the Clean Air Act.

"This new approach demonstrates EPA's commitment to using both compliance assistance and traditional enforcement to make sure industry complies with our environmental laws," said Steven A. Herman, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "We also recognize that small businesses have a special need for help to comply with our laws because they generally lack the resources that are available to larger companies. EPA expects the policy to usher in a new era of trust between small businesses and government agencies and to change the way small businesses view environmental requirements. The result will be more compliance and cleaner air for the public."

EPA developed this new policy at the request of and in consultation with the states. States were concerned that many small businesses would not seek compliance assistance from the government if violations identified during compliance assistance resulted in enforcement actions.

To address this concern, the policy allows Small Business Assistance Programs to operate in one of two ways. States can either offer small businesses a limited correction period for violations detected during compliance assistance or a guarantee that information identifying specific small businesses that have violations detected through compliance assistance would be kept confidential. However, the new policy does not weaken clean air standards. In either case, all small businesses are unconditionally responsible for full compliance with the applicable requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Under the correction-period option, assistance programs may allow small

businesses that receive compliance assistance up to 90 days, with the possibility of an additional 90-day extension, to correct any violations discovered under the program. Any violations remaining at the end of that period are subject to existing enforcement response policies, which may include discretion not to take enforcement action in appropriate cases. To ensure that the state has the ability to take enforcement actions for any violations that remain uncorrected, programs offering the grace period can not give guarantees that they will keep information on violations confidential.

Under the confidentiality option, the Small Business Assistant Programs may offer compliance assistance on a confidential basis, subject to two important limitations. First, the state must retain the ability to investigate and/or take enforcement action at any time for any violation discovered independently from the Section 507 program. Second, confidential compliance assistance can only be offered through programs that operate independently of the state's delegated regulatory enforcement program.

The correction-period option is EPA's preferred approach because it provides for greater openness between Small Business Assistance Programs and specific facilities, the small business community in general, and other state officials. As a result, the states and EPA will be better able to focus enforcement resources on the worst violators.

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