EHS professionals know that regulations change frequently. Over the years, regulatory agencies have put in place sweeping changes only to have parts of the rule rolled back piece by piece. This can happen just as easily the other way: a rule is stripped away, only to be brought back by legal action or a policy shift.
In one recent case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shifted coal ash permitting in Georgia from a federal responsibility to a state responsibility, making Georgia the second state is authorized to do so, according to a report from Utility Dive.The changes in Georgia represent only the most recent change in coal ash regulation. Major federal efforts to regulate coal ash pollution began with the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities rule, which was finalized in April 2015. A similar bill passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The current situation was made possible through a rule change implemented in 2018. All these changes happened in just a five year period.
For businesses, having regulations rolled back can be just as confusing as having them added. The coal ash rules in Georgia could leave landfill owners and other affected businesses with some questions. Will their permits be grandfathered in? What specific requirements will be changed as a result? Will requirements become more or less stringent going forward?
Using EHS Management Software can help your business stay on top of an ever-changing regulatory climate and ensure regulatory compliance. Staying in the know can help you enhance your risk management and emergency preparedness strategies, and help you do your best to keep the environment clean — all while continuing to do great work.
The new rule in Georgia isn't an isolated incident. Since 2016, continued environmental deregulation has become a major trend. In addition to paving the way for state control of the permit process, the EPA also rolled back some federal standards for coal ash with a 2018 rule change. In all, according to the New York Times, the EPA has rolled back 95 different environmental rules since 2016.
While the Trump administration has put an emphasis on rolling back EPA regulations, the trend could easily change in the coming years, because of a new administration or some other factor. Regulators are constantly looking at new research and weighing issues surrounding the economic and public health impacts of a regulation.
In other cases, companies may still choose to do more than is legally required of them if a rule is rolled back. In some cases this may be because a company is looking to lower its environmental impact as part of its corporate social responsibility program or better its public image. In other cases, companies may see self regulation that goes above legal requirements as a smart business move. In one recent case, oil company BP America came out against plans by the EPA to cut back regulations that limited methane emissions.
"A lot of regulations, when businesses really get down to it, they find it helps them become better managed...You not only reduce pollution, but you also reduce your cost," said Tensie Whelan, New York University's Center for Sustainable Business director, speaking with GreenBiz.
Whatever you and your business's opinions on the state, federal and local regulations that govern the work that you do, a complete knowledge of those regulations is essential to avoiding fines and penalties.
A regulatory database
Effective EHS Management Software should include a regulatory database that informs and guides customers. Regulatory databases should be constantly updated by topic experts who stay up to date on new rules and regulations and have the knowledge to know what changes will force action. They can break down regulatory language and explain it simply, so that customers know what exactly they have to do to stay compliant.
The database should cover rules from the EPA, OSHA and DOT, all of which are key to stay on top of if you are an EHS professional. However, not all regulations will necessarily relate to your business. Receiving notifications for irrelevant changes could mean that the rule changes you need to know about get lost in the mix. Look for an EHS software solution that allows its customers to build site-specific compliance profiles, so that they are only receiving notifications about relevant rule changes.
EHS Management Software databases can also help your company differentiate between state and federal rules, an important distinction in cases like the one in Georgia. State-by-state guidelines can be especially helpful for companies with work sites in multiple states and must stay up to date with different sets of standards. Some examples of areas that may have varying state regulations, besides coal ash, include storage tanks, drinking water and groundwater issues and universal wastes.
With regulation changing rapidly, based on everything from politics to science, staying up to date can be challenging. While it has seemed like new rules have been implemented at a slower pace while old ones get rolled back rapidly, this trend could easily reverse itself. One of the best ways that companies can stay up to date on the rules that affect them is with reliable EHS Management Software. EHS Software can not only provide updates to relevant changes through a database, but can also help in areas like data collection and risk analysis.
Dakota Software's EHS Management Software has several tools to make sure that you are on top of relevant regulations; whether they're being added to, rolled back, or completely removed. To learn more about how we can support your EHS compliance efforts, request a demo today.
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