Addressing Climate Change in Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
EPA’s enforcement and compliance program is focused on addressing 21st century environmental challenges, none of which are greater than global climate change. The climate crisis continues to accelerate: 2023 was the warmest on record, with more billion-dollar weather events in the United States during the first eight months of the year than in any prior calendar year. If we fail to take decisive action by the end of this decade, searing heat, widespread drought, destructive storms, and coastal flooding will become commonplace.
During his first week in office, President Biden in Executive Order 14008 called on all federal agencies to “combat the climate crisis with bold, progressive action” and directed them to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), bolster adaptation to alter our behaviors, and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. EPA Administrator Regan subsequently made addressing the climate crisis the top cross-cutting goal in EPA’s Strategic Plan.
EPA has taken several steps to combat climate change during the last three years, including new legal requirements that must be enforced fairly and vigorously to help stave off catastrophic climate change. EPA will prioritize enforcement and compliance actions that mitigate climate change and include climate adaptation and resilience measures in enforcement and compliance activities whenever appropriate.
On this page:
- OECA Climate Enforcement and Compliance Strategy
- Combatting the Climate Crisis by Reducing Emissions of GHGs
- Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency
- Capacity Building and Technical Assistance
OECA Climate Enforcement and Compliance Strategy
In accordance with President Biden’s Executive Order and EPA’s strategic plan, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, David M. Uhlmann, issued EPA’s Climate Enforcement and Compliance Strategy (pdf) on September 28, 2023, directing all EPA enforcement and compliance offices to address climate change, wherever appropriate, in every matter within their jurisdiction.
In particular, the strategy requires EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs to:
- Prioritize enforcement and compliance actions to mitigate climate change;
- Include climate adaptation and resilience in case conclusions, as appropriate; and
- Provide technical assistance to achieve climate-related solutions and build climate change capacity among EPA staff and our state and local partners.
The strategy also recognizes that while the impacts of climate change affect people in every region of the country, certain communities and individuals already overburdened by environmental stressors and with less access to the resources needed to adapt to and recover from climate change impacts are especially vulnerable. Thus, under this strategy, EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs will consider climate equity as we factor climate change considerations into our enforcement and compliance activities.
Combatting the Climate Crisis by Reducing Emissions of GHGs
In keeping with EPA’s Climate and Enforcement Strategy, EPA, working with our state, local, and tribal partners, is prioritizing our enforcement and compliance activities to reduce air pollutants that cause or contribute to climate change (i.e., carbon dioxide, methane, and fluorinated gases). In 2021, U.S. GHG emissions totaled 6,340.2 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents, and net emissions of 5,586 million metric tons after carbon storage from the land sector is included.
National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative: Mitigating Climate Change
In August 2023, EPA included Mitigating Climate Change as one of six National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs) for FY 2024-2027 and will focus additional resources on reducing emissions of the highest impact super-pollutants (i.e., hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane).
HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with global warming potentials hundreds to thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide (CO2). HFCs were used as a replacement for ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment and are also used in foams, fire retardants, and many other applications.
The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020, authorized EPA to address these super pollutants by:
- Phasing down of the U.S. production and consumption of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years;
- Maximizing reclamation and minimizing releases from equipment, and
- Facilitating the transition to next-generation technologies through sector-based restrictions on HFCs
More information on reducing HFCs is available on the Agency’s Protecting Our Climate by Reducing Use of HFCs website.
Methane (CH4) is also a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 28 times higher than CO2. EPA will seek greater compliance with environmental laws at oil and gas facilities and landfills, the second and third largest sources of U.S. methane emissions.
Enforcement Actions to Combat Climate Change
The following cases highlight EPA enforcement actions taken to date to combat climate change. The new Mitigating Climate Change NECI will continue this work with heightened focus and additional resources to tackle this pressing issue.
- Under the new Mitigating Climate Change NECI, EPA reached a settlement with Allied Waste Niagara Falls Landfill, LLC (Allied) resolving Clean Air Act violations at the companies landfill in Niagara Falls, New York. As part of the settlement, Allied will operate a gas collection and control system to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals, primarily methane, as well as other harmful organic compounds, released into the air. This settlement will eliminate 86,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent methane emissions per year (similar to the amount of greenhouse gas reductions that would be achieved by taking over 19,100 gasoline powered vehicles off the road for one year). (January 9, 2024 EPA Press Release.)
- A settlement with Mewbourne Oil Company to undertake projects to ensure 422 of its oil and gas well pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with state and federal clean air regulations and offset past illegal emissions at a cost of at least $4.6 million. A co-benefit of the actions by these companies will also result in a reduction of more than 1,300 tons of methane (equivalent to 33,000 tons of CO2 annually or similar to the amount of greenhouse gas reductions that would be achieved by taking 7,300 gasoline powered vehicles off the road for one year). (August 8, 2023 EPA Press Release.)
- Settlements with three natural gas processors (Williams Companies, Inc.; MPLX LP; and WES DJ Gathering LLC) that when fully implemented, the combined settlements will reduce methane emissions by approximately 1,800 tons per year (equivalent to 50,000 tons of CO2 annually or similar to the amount of greenhouse gas reductions that would be achieved by taking 11,200 gasoline powered vehicles off the road for one year. (April 20, 2023 EPA Press Release.)
- A settlement with Matador Production Company addressing Clean Air Act violations at its oil and gas well pads that will result in the reduction of criteria pollutants will, as a co-benefit also reduce approximately 1,100 tons of methane emissions per year (equivalent to 31,000 tons of CO2 annually or similar to the amount of greenhouse gas reductions that would be achieved by taking 6,060 gasoline powered vehicles off the road for one year). (March 27, 2023 EPA Press Release.)
- A settlement with LyondellBasell Companies to reduce harmful air pollution at six U.S. chemical plants. The agreement requires the companies to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology which once fully implemented, will reduce emissions of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, and ethane, by almost 92,000 tons per year or similar to the amount of greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to the annual emissions of 20,400 gasoline-powered cars. (October 14, 2021 Press Release.)
Other Greenhouse Gas-Reducing Enforcement Activity
Outside the Mitigating Climate Change NECI, EPA’s day-to-day enforcement actions aimed at returning facilities to compliance with existing laws are directly and indirectly resulting in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Under settlement agreements where companies agree to increase energy efficiency, conserve energy, or switch fuels, the environmental benefits include a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2), the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Also, EPA’s enforcement of Title VI of the Clean Air Act to protect the ozone layer results in the direct reduction of fluorinated gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have global warming potentials thousands to tens of thousands of times greater than CO2.
Examples of recent actions that resulted in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions outside of the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative activities include:
- A settlement with Derichebourg Recycling USA Inc. to resolve Clean Air Act violations at 10 scrap metal recycling facilities in Texas and Oklahoma that will prevent the release of ozone depleting refrigerants which contributes to climate change. (January 7, 2022 EPA Press Release.)
- A settlement with the New York City Public Schools addresses their longstanding failure to properly monitor and control harmful emissions from their over 1,300 oil-fired boilers. When these boilers are not properly maintained, they can emit excess hazardous air pollutants, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases. The school system agreed to convert to natural gas or replace seven large oil-fired boilers, which is projected to reduce the city’s Department of Education’s oil consumption and combustion by over three million gallons by November 2027. (September 27, 2021, DOJ Press Release.)
Multiple enforcement actions with HFC importers who failed to report their imported quantities in violation of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program support national and international goals to reduce the use of HFCs. Failure to timely report GHG emissions to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program harms the regulatory program by undermining the usefulness of the program’s data. The data is used by interested entities to track and compare importers’ and facilities’ emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money. Communities can also use the data to find high emitting facilities in their area.
- The civil penalties in these actions include six landmark settlements totaling more than $1.4 million:
- IGas Companies ($382,473 penalty) (2/6/2023),
- Artsen Chemical America, LLC ($247,601 penalty) (1/5/2023),
- Harp USA, Inc. ($275,000 penalty) (1/3/2023),
- Combs Investment Property, LP ($241,562 penalty) (3/14/2022),
- Waysmos USA, Inc. ($209,000 penalty) (3/14/2022), and
- Nature Gas Import and Export Inc. ($84,546 penalty) (3/14/2022).
These HFC importers’ violations diminished the ability of federal, state, and local, and tribal governments to compare emissions between similar facilities and develop common-sense climate policies, making it harder to address climate change.
Incorporating clean renewable energy solutions and facilitating electrification infrastructure in case resolutions:
To help reduce GHGs and other pollutant emissions, EPA’s enforcement program is including clean renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.), energy efficiency, and electrification requirements into settlement agreements where appropriate. Recent examples include:
- Louisville Gas & Electric settlement requiring truck electrification and electric vehicle charging installation to reduce air pollution in the Louisville area (December 1, 2021 EPA Press Release);
- JEG’S Automotive settlement resulted in the replacement of diesel school buses with electric buses in response to air emission control “defeat device” violations in an area of Columbus, Ohio overburdened with pollution and environmental justice concerns (September 13, 2021 EPA Press Release); and
- Indianapolis Power & Light settlement requiring installation of solar panels at an electric utility station that violated clean air requirements (August 31, 2020 Consent Decree).
Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency
The impacts of climate change (e.g., floods, fires, hurricanes, extreme weather events) pose additional challenges for regulated entities to remain in compliance with environmental laws and for communities to prepare for and recover from extreme weather events.
EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs factor in the changing climate in our activities to ensure that regulated entities and communities strengthen their adaptive capacity, consider climate change risk in their planning, and increase their resilience so that they are better able to anticipate, prepare for, withstand, and recover from the disruptive impacts of climate change while also remaining in compliance with environmental laws. EPA is also incorporating climate resilient remedies in our cleanups, as appropriate. Examples of such climate change adaptation and resiliency efforts in EPA’s enforcement and compliance programs include:
- A settlement with Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (JCMUA) will incorporate climate change adaptation and resilience best practices for upgrades to its sewer system to ensure it is better prepared to withstand severe storms and hurricanes. JCMUA proposes to expand the scope of work for the pump station improvements beyond the Consent Decree’s requirements in order to prepare for and adapt to climate change by incorporating higher minimum design thresholds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established after Superstorm Sandy, including raising elevations and adding resiliency measures for 500-year storm events, which are required by the state for loan funding approval. (January 27, 2022 EPA Press Release.)
- Settlements with the cities of Greenville and Hattiesburg, Mississippi require that the work to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows and maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act be performed using sound engineering practices, including practices to improve the resilience of the sewer systems. Overview of Greenville settlement web page | Overview of Hattiesburg settlement web page.
- A settlement with the U.S. Army for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) Risk and Resilience Assessment (RRA) and Emergency Response Plan (ERP) requirements at U.S Army Garrison Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico requires the Army to conduct an assessment of the risks to, and resilience of, its community water system, including risk from natural hazards. The Army certified completion of an RRA and ERP for the Fort Buchanan community water system and paid an administrative penalty, the first such penalty issued under Section 1433 of the SDWA. December 6, 2022 Consent Agreement.
Capacity Building and Technical Assistance
To build capacity and provide technical assistance through EPA’s climate and enforcement strategy, EPA is working to provide technical assistance to achieve climate-related solutions and build climate change capacity among EPA staff and our state and local partners.
The Agency’s enforcement and compliance program is taking steps to improve our own adaptive capacity so that climate change does not interfere with EPA’s ability to conduct compliance monitoring activities and enforce the nation’s environmental laws.
In October 2022, EPA issued the OECA Climate Adaptation Implementation Plan, which identifies actions to ameliorate the potential impacts of climate change on OECA’s mission and operations and specified priority actions OECA would undertake each year. Similarly, the enforcement and compliance program is committed to working with our state, local, and tribal, partners to build capacity to ensure environmental protection for future generations.
Enforcement and compliance and other EPA program office climate-related resources and training include:
- OECA’s Compliance Advisors for Sustainable Water Systems: Launched in 2020, the compliance advisors bring one-on-one technical assistance right to the door of drinking water and wastewater systems serving small communities with compliance problems, many of which serve overburdened communities. The technical assistance is intended to bring these systems into compliance, build operator capacity, and provide sustainable, clean and safe water that is adaptive and resilient to changes in climate.
- Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT): A tool that assists water sector utilities in assessing climate-related risks to utility assets and operations. Contains five modules for users to consider climate impacts and identify adaptation options to increase resilience.
- EPA’s Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X): An interactive resource to help local governments effectively deliver services to their communities even as the climate changes by creating an integrated package of information tailored specifically to their needs. Provides information about: the risks posed by climate change to the issues of concern; relevant adaptation strategies; case studies illustrating how other communities have successfully adapted to those risks and tools to replicate their successes; and EPA funding opportunities.
- EPA’s Green Infrastructure for Climate Resiliency website: Provides information about how green infrastructure practices can help communities plan for and manage the effects of climate change, including managing flooding, preparing for drought, reducing urban heat islands, lowering building energy demands, spending less energy managing water, and protecting coastal areas.
- The Superfund Climate Resilience website: Provides an overview of climate-related initiatives within the Superfund program and shares information about strategies that can be used to evaluate and strengthen climate resilience at Superfund sites.
- The Climate Smart Brownfields Manual: An excellent resource for communities that want to consider climate change as they assess, clean up, and redevelop brownfield sites. The manual provides communities with best practices and case studies regarding climate change mitigation, adaption, and resilience from planning to redevelopment of brownfields.
- FedCenter.gov is the federal government's home for comprehensive environmental stewardship and compliance assistance information for federal facility managers and their agencies, and provides continually updated climate adaptation resources, tools, and lessons learned.
- Greener Cleanups website: Provides information on the practice of considering all environmental effects of remedy implementation and incorporating options to minimize the environmental footprints of cleanup actions.