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EPA’s Enforcement “Watch List” Enters Second Year Online

For the past year, EPA has been posting a monthly “Watch List” of companies allegedly in violation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Watch List includes those facilities that purportedly have high priority violations under the CAA, and facilities with significant noncompliance status under the CWA and RCRA.

According to the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, “[b]eing on the Watch List does not mean that the facility has actually violated the law only that an evaluation of investigation by EPA, or a state or local environmental agency has led those organizations to allege that an unproven violation has occurred.” Particularly troubling, however, is that the Watch List is an automated report subject to data errors and natural lags in reporting that may not accurately reflect a facility’s compliance status.

EPA’s posting of the Watch List is part of a growing enforcement trend to emphasize “transparency” through technology and information to deter and minimize environmental violations. According to an EPA 2012 National Environmental Enforcement Information Meeting presentation, “The public appetite for this information is growing – as more info is provided, it becomes easier for the public to mine data and identify issues. Companies are increasingly sensitive to their environmental image – which in large part is a function of what regulatory agencies release.”

Companies should consider paying particular attention to the Watch List following regulatory inspections to ensure data entry errors and other mistakes do not cause a facility to incorrectly appear on the Watch List.