We get a lot of folks confused over regulatory agencies. All too often we hear "it was an EPA guy inspecting us" when in reality, it was a NJDEP inspector, or even county inspector.
I like to make the comparison of getting an inspection by the county or NJDEP and the USEPA like being pulled over by a local cop for a broken tail light, and having Seal Team Six kicking your door down.
That is, the local cops are more forgiving, then to know you, and you may have some history. Whereas Seal Team Six is out to get you, and they can (and have) come in guns blazing.
USEPA = Seal Team Six
NJDEP = Local Cops
Ok, so now that we've made that clear, let's talk about enforcement in New Jersey.
USEPA vs NJDEP Enforcement in New Jersey
We get asked a lot if the USEPA can enforce regulations in New Jersey? Doesn't the NJDEP enforce environmental regulations in New Jersey?
It's a great question, since it’s always good to know who’s going to be inspecting you, and possibly issuing violations or penalties. It’s also an odd question, since no one in New Jersey or any other state should ignore the potential for USEPA enforcement. So, the answer to is there USEPA enforcement in New Jersey is straightforward, but also a bit complicated, since it applies to individual facilities.
So, here are 6 key concepts about USEPA enforcement in New Jersey vs. NJDEP enforcement:
- Know the difference. The USEPA is the Federal government’s environmental regulatory agency, doing work all over the United States. The NJDEP is the State of New Jersey’s environmental regulatory agency, only applicable to activities in New Jersey. I made the analogy above, don't mix them up.
- Where do regulations come from? Most environmental regulations arise from Federal law. Therefore, the primary agency for enforcement across the country is the USEPA.
- New Jersey is a delegated state. That means the USEPA trusts the NJDEP to uphold environmental laws, like NJPDES stormwater permits, air permits, etc. So, the NJDEP enforces most environmental regulations in NJ.
- The USEPA oversees the NJDEP. The USEPA retains oversight over all environmental regulations. So while your inspections and enforcement incidents are probably going to be done by the NJDEP in New Jersey, the USEPA always reserves the right to do the same. They can, and they have in the past enforced state's environmental regulations.
- The NJDEP has tougher regulations. There are some areas in which New Jersey environmental regulations have gone above and beyond what the USEPA calls for, such as “discharges to groundwater” in NJPDES permits. In these specific areas, the USEPA would not be a lead enforcement agency.
- The NJDEP doesn't regulate everything. The best example of this is a facility’s need for an SPCC plan, which is required by Federal law, but not directly addressed by any State of New Jersey regulation. So in these instances, it would be the USEPA doing the inspecting.
The USEPA regional headquarters (Region 2) is in New York City, right across the river from New Jersey. You could literally be inspected at any time. Although most inspections and enforcement actions occur from the NJDEP in New Jersey, the USEPA can and does conduct inspections and enforce environmental regulations in New Jersey.
What's your best protection against NJDEP or USEPA environmental inspections in New Jersey? Be in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations. Plain and simple. Just follow the rules, and no one gets in trouble.
If you're not sure you're in compliance with all necessary regulations, consider a comprehensive environmental audit of your facility. It will find and help you address any environmental issues, and implement a program to ensure you stay in compliance. If you need help with NJDEP or USEPA environmental regulations, click here to contact us or call us at 609-693-8301 to discuss your needs today.