Environmental Compliance and Management Benefits

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Many companies are subject to environmental regulations without realizing it. In general, any business, big or small, commercial or industrial, which emits vapors or dust into the air, discharges process waste water into a sewer or on the ground, or generates a solid waste for disposal may be subject to environmental regulations. If a business uses a great many chemicals, or volumes of chemical, or has a file of material safety data sheet (MSDSs), then the company may be susceptible to reporting requirements. In addition, facilities located in water sheds, flood plains, or on a ground water recharge zone may require a permit. Storm water which comes in contact with facility process materials may require a management plan.

There are a great many companies which are not easily recognized as being susceptible to environmental regulations. Some of these include air conditioning services, auto repair and body shops, bakeries, car wash, dry cleaners, furniture refinishing, laundries, print shops, newspapers, photograph developers, doctors and dentists, and restaurants. There are many variances and exemptions, and there is a good possibility that environmental regulations will not apply, but if they do the most cost effective time to correct any deficiencies is now. There is no denying that the regulations can be complex, confusing and ambiguous leading to frustrations and anxiety, but once compliance is achieved and a system in place to maintain it, compliance need not be as traumatic or as costly as frequently claimed. In fact there can be significant benefits.

In general, environmental compliance is considered an additional cost which will negatively impact the bottom line. However, the effect can be minimized. There are pollution prevention and recycle programs which can reduce or eliminate waste generation resulting in a significant savings and possibility exemption from environmental regulations all together. There is also an increasing awareness of the public relations benefit for companies perceived as environmentally conscientious. Many companies are promoting this image through advertising campaigns, symbols (e.g. recycle emblem) and consequently realizing increased sales which often offset the environmental compliance costs. A good faith effort will go a long way to mitigate any enforcement action.

There are unfounded fears which inhibit many companies from inquiring into their regulatory status, or contacting the regulatory agency for assistance. In fact, the environmental regulatory agency usually will cooperate and assist the sincere company achieve compliance, as best they can. While the regulatory agency is empowered to initiate substantial enforcement action, this is not a common course of action toward a company which has implemented a good faith effort to come into compliance. Enforcement action is generally reserved for those facilities which make no effort to comply after repeated warnings and notifications.

The principle environmental regulatory agency in Texas is the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or the TNRCC. For the most part businesses will find this agency very open and willing to answer any questions , including the enforcement branch. The TNRCC has a Small Business Assistance Program through which a company can get private consulting at no cost without fear of enforcement. In addition, the TNRCC sponsors a Pollution Prevention Program which will provide companies of any size free guidance in reducing waste generation. There is a Voluntary Clean Program(VCP) which will protect a property owner from enforcement during remediation, and provide a release of liability for non-responsible parties. The agency conducts many workshops throughout the year and the state to assist companies identify and resolve compliance issues.

One of the primary environmental compliance concerns is third party liabilities. One of the more common reasons a regulatory agency will inspect a low profile company is in response to complaints from competitors, neighbors, and past employees. It takes relatively low concentrations of pollutants to impact the soil, or make the water unusable. While in and by itself the small amount of contaminated runoff from one site would not have a significant impact, but when that same amount is combined with the small amounts from other numerous other sites the accumulated compounded affects can be substantial. Non compliance status may never be identified and substantial impact may never occur, but it exists it will eventually be discovered. One company unwittingly poured a gallon of cleaning solvent Òin the backÓ at the end of each day for 20 years. Another discharged process wash down water into the parking area which ran offsite. Over time these practices created unintentional environmental concerns, and were reported to the regulatory agency. The first was reported by a competitor; the second by a disgruntled employee. Both resulted in significant cost to the company.

The environmental regulations are complex, confusing, ambiguous and often a matter of interpretation. Besides the federal and state regulatory agencies, there may be county and city ordinances to contend with. There is as much a tendency to over comply with environmental regulations resulting in significant unnecessary costs, as there is not to be in compliance. Depending upon the complexity of the business in terms of process materials, discharges, emissions, and wastes generated, it is advisable to get assistance in determining the compliance status of a facility. The regulatory agencies are usually able to resolve most concerns. The assistance programs and workshops mentioned above are good places to start.

If an independent consultant is retained beware of alarmist claims of $25,000 dollar a day fines imprisonment, and liabilities. Also be aware of official sounding certifications. While there are several meaningful certifying registrars, there are many without any value. Generally, as a policy regulatory agencies do not recommend consultants, and cannot advise against a poor one, but they will acknowledge if a good one has been retained. The agency will advise a company if a clean up plan is inadequate, but can not so advise if the action is excessive. So if proposal cost seems excessive, obtain a second opinion. If enforcement is involved it is advisable to retain an experienced environmental attorney. Until a trust and credibility is established the consultant should not contact the agency directly on behalf of the company without legal counsel, and certainly not without the companies prior knowledge. The intent here is not to blanketly condemn all consultants, like all fields there are a great many more reliable, reputable environmental professionals than otherwise, but due to the complexity of the field it is prudent to check out the credentials and references.

It is not correct to imply that all regulations are appropriate and necessary or that compliance with all the regulations will result in a pristine environment or 'save the tiger'. The environmental regulatory system is in need of much improvement, it is after all a political system susceptible to the legitimate (and otherwise) concerns of special interests, but for all its faults it is difficult to deny that the quality of the environment in this country has improved immensely since their inception. All too often too much of the credit is pirated by the politicians and activists without any recognition of the contribution and sacrifices made by the small businesses and industry as a whole. Their contribution should not be overlooked.

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