Audit Protection: How Safe are You?

Columns From: Products Finishing, from Products Finishing

Posted on: 7/1/1996

The Senate will soon consider a bill concerning one of the most serious problems you face in trying to comply with all the environmental laws and regulations.

The Senate will soon consider a bill concerning one of the most serious problems you face in trying to comply with all the environmental laws and regulations. Namely, how your efforts to comply may expose you to serious fines and damaging litigation.

A self-initiated audit can bring you into compliance, but there is a possibility the audit could become evidence for regulators, litigants and prosecutors.

For example, WMX Technologies, Inc., Oak Brook, Illinois, operates waste management and environmental treatment and disposal facilities in 47 states. In October, 1992, an employee voiced concerns that a company inspector had falsified records of lab packs received at Chem Waste's St. Louis incinerators. The company investigated, corrected the problem and reported it to state agencies.

Instead of hearing, "OK. We are glad you fixed it," from regulators, the state of Illinois penalized the company $1.5 million and then upped it to more than $4 million as punishment for several other examples of non-compliance at the facility. This information was reported in Resources, April 1996.

The finishing and related industries are not the only ones that have been affected by "confessing" unintentional emissions or paperwork mistakes. Coors Brewing Company has obtained a permit to operate its Colorado brewery based on emissions modeling from two sets of guidelines used by the EPA and the states. In late 1990 the company measured the VOCs in the brewing operations. The company spent 18 months and $1.5 million on the study and found that emissions were 650 tons per year, rather than the 40 tons per year estimated under the permit guidelines.

Coors reported the emissions to the Colorado Department of Environmental Protection. It was fined $10.5 million for not being properly permitted and an additional penalty to offset the company's supposed economic gain from the alleged non-compliance. This was also reported in the same issue of Resources.

Scary, isn't it? That is why Senators Mark Hatfield and Hank Brown have introduced Senate Bill 582, the Voluntary Environmental Audit Protection Act. This is meant to increase your confidence that information gathered in good faith will not be used against you. The bill provides limited evidentiary protection for self-audits and eliminates penalties for entities that uncover non-compliance as the result of an audit or compliance-management system; voluntarily disclose this non-compliance to the regulatory authorities; and move promptly to correct the non-compliance.

Manufacturers need to make their case now that environmental compliance is enhanced by making it easier for you to bring yourself into compliance. Write your senators and ask them to support S.582.

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