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The 12 Commandments of Environmental Compliance

Anthony O. Garvin

[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Companies big and small throughout the United States, in industries ranging from pharmaceutical manufacturers and high technology to transportation, are leading the way in environmental management. In fact, according to the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, "there is absolutely no doubt that in most areas, the U.S. is still far ahead of its foreign competitors in environmental management."

Now, more than ever, business is beginning to view environmental compliance as a management mandate. And, the effort requires heavy investment. The New York Times reported that American businesses are expected to invest more than $200 billion in the 1990s to prevent pollution, make their products environmentally sound and reduce their reliance on hazardous materials. But companies that invest are also discovering that developing environmental compliance programs can help boost the bottom line. 3M, for example, saved some $570 million in pollution controls and operating costs by closely examining its processes and materials. After an audit, the company replaced its solvent-based coatings for medicine tablets with water-based coatings. The company now also uses sound waves instead of solvents as part of its reactor vessel clean-up efforts.

Outlined below are the "12 Commandments of Environmental Compliance," a guide that companies can use as a reference as they begin to develop and implement environmental compliance programs.

Commandment 1:

Identify All Environmental Laws & Regulations Applicable To Your Company

Environmental regulations can be extremely complex, and vary greatly from state to state. A first step in managing the information is to identify all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your company. For example, most states require an air emission permit for any equipment or operation that may emit air pollutants. Nearly all manufacturing operations produce some hazardous waste. That means you must use hazardous waste manifests for shipment to permitted treatment, storage and disposal facilities.

Commandment 2:

Designate A Senior Company Officer For Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance

Environmental compliance must start at the senior levels of your company. Unless an identifiable senior executive is responsible for compliance, no one will be accountable should something go wrong. To improve the chance for success, the compliance program should be independent of line management and the executive in charge of the program must have direct access to the company's top officers.

Commandment 3:

Establish -- And Communicate -- Your Policy

A written environmental policy demonstrates your environmental commitment to employees, customers and suppliers -- as well as regulators and law enforcement officers. A written policy, particularly when it is communicated regularly through employee updates or company-wide meetings, also serves as strong evidence in any enforcement action. Of course, for it to be effective, employees at all levels of the organization must live up to its mandate. When appropriate, incorporating environmental compliance into employee performance/evaluations is an effective way to ensure that employees understand the priority.

Commandment 4:

Develop A Procedures Manual

A good starting point to help manage the process is to create a manual that identifies all federal and state laws. Then add copies of all the company's environmental permits, and set up a calendar for renewing permits. Also, as the laws change, remember to update the manual -- and your permits. Include a current list of environmental managers and emergency coordinators at your company. Create another section that lists approved contractors, suppliers and emergency service providers. Control the number of copies so that all manuals can be updated quarterly. Make it accessible to employees and managers as a reference.

Commandment 5:

Launch An Environmental Training Program

For companies big and small, training is critical to the success of any environmental compliance program. The failure of companies to implement training programs is the most frequent weakness of corporate environmental compliance programs. Increasingly, government prosecutors are focusing on the adequacy of training in prosecuting corporations for environmental problems.

Commandment 6:

Conduct Annual Audit

Each year, you should perform an environmental compliance audit to review applicable laws and regulations, identify new requirements and review how pending legislation may impact your company. The audit should be conducted by employees who are independent of line management, or by a team of outside environmental consultants or attorneys. The audit should be directed by corporate counsel to preserve confidentiality of the audit findings. Any deficiencies identified during the annual audit must be corrected immediately. Government prosecutors view voluntary self-audit programs favorably in deciding whether to bring enforcement actions.

Commandment 7:

Do Your Homework (Before You Lease Or Buy)

Since CERCLA and state statutes hold the current owner and operator of land liable for clean-up of contamination, it's imperative that you conduct a detailed assessment of any property before you agree to lease or purchase. Doing this upfront will help to avoid litigation to recover cleanup costs from the prior owner. In conducting the assessment, hire an experienced, licensed environmental consultant well in advance of the purchase. A Phase I audit, which is a summary review of environmental issues and helps to identify any potential problems, typically requires up to six weeks to complete. If a Phase II assessment is needed to run soil and groundwater sampling and verify site conditions, another four to six weeks may be required. Some of these steps can be done more quickly, but the environmental consultants also have to rely on pulling land use records and other government documents, which can be a time-consuming task.

Commandment 8:

Minimize Waste

Hazardous waste disposal fees and taxes are enormous, and are expected to continue to increase in cost over the coming years. At the same time, the number of hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities is declining rapidly. In California, for example, there is only one fully permitted disposal site available to generators of hazardous waste. The best solution is to reduce the volume of hazardous waste that your company generates. When technology and safety permit, recycle and reuse materials. Work with in-house or outside process engineers to help identify different recycling and treatment options.

Commandment 9:

Look For Alternatives

Going forward, the Clean Air Act and other statutes are expected to impose increasingly stringent restrictions on the use of hazardous raw materials. Companies should not wait for these laws to take effect. Examining ways to minimize your use of hazardous raw materials now, will help reduce manufacturing downtime in the future. Work with a process engineer to identify the materials you currently use and develop a list of possible substitutes. Begin a testing program, because substitution of raw materials can take as much as two to three years to test and work through customer satisfaction issues.

Commandment 10:

Retain Detailed Records

For most companies, it's difficult to prove that they did not cause contamination in the past because adequate records are not available. To prevent this, companies should keep detailed invoices and purchase orders to prove which chemicals have -- or have not -- been used. Be sure that the environmental compliance officer retains hazardous waste manifests to demonstrate that wastes were in fact shipped off-site and not disposed at the facility. Plan to retain these records for at least 20 years. Using microfilm can conserve space. Copies of all records should be kept in a fire-safe location deposit box off-site as insurance against potential destruction of records in a catastrophe.

Commandment 11:

Select Your Vendors Carefully

When working with independent hazardous waste haulers and disposal sites, be certain that they have solid environmental and financial records. Consider having your environmental compliance officer personally visit all hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities used by your company. During the site visit, make sure that all hazardous waste is treated or incinerated before disposal to comply with restrictions on land disposal. When working with the outside vendors, use only written contracts for shipment and disposal.

Commandment 12:

Develop An Employee Environmental Response Program

There is usually some truth to employee complaints or allegations, so it is wise to investigate each one thoroughly. In fact, many environmental prosecutions stem from complaints by disgruntled employees. Typically, employees will inform management of a problem before reporting it to authorities. To encourage open communications, the company should develop a procedure for addressing employee concerns, complaints and allegations. The program should be set up independent of line management. Use company newsletters or bulletins to publicize the employee program and encourage comments.

Anthony O. Garvin is an Environmental Law Group partner in Brobeck's San Francisco office.

Copyright Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP

-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000


Now, compare the above, from a business perspective, to the...

Earth Pledge 00334n

A bridge between two worlds certainly needs to be created, if this planet is ever going to make it.


-- Anonymous, May 03, 2000

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