EPA's Audit Policy
The EPA Audit Policy, formally titled “Incentives for Self- Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations,” safeguards human health and the environment by providing several major incentives for regulated entities to voluntarily discover and fix violations of federal environmental laws and regulations. To take advantage of these incentives, regulated entities must voluntarily discover, promptly disclose to EPA, expeditiously correct, and prevent recurrence of future environmental violations.
- Summary of Incentives
- Conditions for Penalty Mitigation
- Making a Voluntary Disclosure
- New Owner Audit Policy
- Small Business Compliance Policy
- Additional Information about the Audit Policy
Summary of Incentives
Significant penalty reductions. Civil penalties under the environmental laws generally have two components: (1) an amount assessed based upon the severity or “gravity” of the violation; and (2) an amount assessed to recapture the economic benefit a violator received from failing to comply with the law.
- Reduction of 100% of gravity-based penalties if all nine of the Policy’s conditions are met. EPA retains its discretion to collect any economic benefit that may have been realized as a result of noncompliance.
- Reduction of gravity-based penalties by 75% where the disclosing entity meets all of the Policy’s conditions except detection of the violation through a systematic discovery process.
No recommendation for criminal prosecution for entities that disclose criminal violations if all of the applicable conditions under the Policy are met. “Systematic discovery” is not a requirement for eligibility for this incentive, although the entity must be acting in good faith and adopt a systematic approach to preventing recurring violations. Refer to the Audit Policy for a complete discussion of issues relating to disclosure of criminal violations.
No routine requests for audit reports. EPA reaffirms its Environmental Auditing Policy Statement in effect since 1986, to refrain from routine requests for audit reports. (i.e., EPA has not and will not routinely request copies of audit reports to trigger enforcement investigations).
Conditions for Penalty Mitigation
Regulated entities that satisfy the following conditions are eligible for Audit Policy benefits. Even if an entity fails to meet the first condition - systematic discovery - it can still be eligible for 75% penalty mitigation, and a recommendation for no criminal prosecution of the violations.
- Systematic discovery of the violation through an environmental audit or the implementation of a compliance management system.
- Voluntary discovery of the violation was not detected as a result of a legally required monitoring, sampling or auditing procedure.
- Prompt disclosure in writing to EPA within 21 days of discovery or such shorter time as may be required by law. Discovery occurs when any officer, director, employee or agent of the facility has an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a violation has or may have occurred.
- Independent discovery and disclosure before EPA or another regulator would likely have identified the violation through its own investigation or based on information provided by a third- party.
- Correction and remediation within 60 calendar days, in most cases, from the date of discovery.
- Prevent recurrence of the violation.
- Repeat violations are ineligible, i.e., the specific (or closely related) violations have occurred at the same facility within the past 3 years or those that have occurred as part of a pattern at multiple facilities owned or operated by the same entity within the past 5 years; if the facility has been newly acquired, the existence of a violation prior to acquisition does not trigger the repeat violations exclusion.
- Certain types of violations are ineligible such as those that result in serious actual harm, those that may have presented an imminent and substantial endangerment, and those that violate the specific terms of an administrative or judicial order or consent agreement.
- Cooperation by the disclosing entity is required.
Making a Voluntary Disclosure Under EPA’s Audit Policy
A regulated entity has 21 days from the time it discovers that a violation has, or may have, occurred to disclose the violation in writing to EPA. Discovery is when any officer, director, employee or agent of the facility has an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a violation has, or may have occurred. Entities must now make almost all disclosures through the eDisclosure System.
Voluntary self-disclosures for civil violations by New Owners or for criminal violations should be sent to the appropriate Audit Policy Contact. In the event of new owner violations affecting more than one Region, entities should contact EPA Headquarters.
Disclosures submitted outside the eDisclosure System (i.e., new owner or potential criminal violations) should, at a minimum, identify the means of discovery, type of violation, and facility location.
EPA modernized its implementation of its self-disclosure policies by creating a centralized web-based eDisclosure portal to receive and automatically process self-disclosed civil violations of environmental law. Under the automated eDisclosure system, large and small businesses will be able to resolve quickly some of their more routine types of disclosures.
New Owner Audit Policy
EPA has developed an Interim Approach to Applying the Audit Policy to New Owners, which provides tailored Audit Policy incentives for new owners that want to make a “clean start” at their recently acquired facilities by addressing environmental noncompliance that began prior to acquisition.
Small Business Compliance Policy
The Small Business Compliance Policy promotes environmental compliance among small businesses (those with 100 or fewer employees) by providing incentives to discover and correct environmental problems. EPA will eliminate or significantly reduce penalties for small businesses that voluntarily discover violations of environmental law and promptly disclose and correct them.
Additional Information about the Audit Policy
Additional information about the Audit Policy and its use is available from the following:
- Questions and Answers concerning U.S. EPA's Audit Policy (also called the Self-Disclosure Policy). The Audit Policy Interpretive Guidance was developed in 1997 to answer frequently asked questions regarding the implementation of the original 1995 Audit Policy.
- Audit Policy: Frequently Asked Questions 2007 This document describes the differences between the original Audit Policy and the 2000 Policy and is intended to supplement the 1997 Interpretive Guidance.
- Other Policies Related to Audits and the Audit Policy
- Environmental Compliance Audits as a Component of Injunctive Relief in Enforcement Settlements (7/25/02)
- Confidentiality of Information Received Under Agency’s Self-Disclosure Policy (1/16/97)
- State Audit Privilege and Immunity Laws & Self-Disclosure Laws and Policies (updated 5/2015) Some states have enacted environmental audit privilege and/or penalty immunity laws.
- Audit Policy eDisclosure and Regional Contacts for New Owner Disclosures
- Audit Protocols. Audit protocols assist the regulated community in developing programs at individual facilities to evaluate their compliance with environmental requirements under federal law. The protocols are intended solely as guidance in this effort. The regulated community's legal obligations are determined by the terms of applicable environmental facility-specific permits, underlying statutes and applicable state and local law.
- For questions regarding the Audit Policy, please contact Phil Milton (email@example.com or 202-564-5029)