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Standards to Protect the Environment: The Four Boxes of Compliance
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 June 2006 Feature
Helen A. Waldorf is an environmental manager for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. She is currently the chief of compliance and enforcement for the Business Compliance Division of the Bureau of Waste Prevention. Previously, she was a state Superfund analyst at MassDEP. She is also a member of the ASTM E50 Committee on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management, and Corrective Action.
E-mail Helen for more information about the e-Compass guide.
Standards to Protect the Environment: The Four Boxes of Compliance

Environmental regulations can overwhelm a small business. To ease compliance, ASTM International Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management, and Corrective Action has created an environmental compliance guide using the concept of boxes. As Richard Bolles, author of the career planning guide The Three Boxes of Life, used boxes to sort life stages, Committee E50 uses boxes to sort regulatory compliance. Boxes are sequential, based on immediacy and risk. So, Box 1 items are the highest priority and demand immediate attention because they have the highest environmental and business risk.

Tank Life Tier I: prevent releases. Tank Life Tier III: perform regular maintenance.

The new standard, E 2365, Guide for Environmental Compliance Performance Assessment, was published in December 2005. E 2365 will help users set priorities and identify the most immediate compliance requirements. The priority system in the four boxes (called “tiers” in the guide) is drawn from general patterns in the enforcement practices of state and federal environmental agencies.

State and federal enforcement programs generally base their actions on the seriousness of the violation, relative to the risk posed to the environment. Direct releases of pollutants, not otherwise permitted, get the highest penalties for first time violations, while maintenance of pollution control equipment is less serious unless the violation is repeated. Failure to fulfill paperwork requirements of environmental regulations may not be a serious first-time violation, but paperwork does document good faith actions taken by the facility to prevent pollution. Repeated lack of documentation can lead to serious non-compliance later when the facility fails to take a required action to prevent or reduce risk.

ASTM E 2365 is based on principles of risk reduction in steps for business and environment. Instead of basing the compliance on each media separately, this analysis takes a multimedia approach and sorts out the most important requirements first, regardless of media. Triaging activities selects the worst first violations through simple steps most small businesses can take to comply.

The new guide, which is also referred to as the e-Compass, provides a simple mechanism for sorting by four boxes or tiers.

Tiers I and II — Contain the most important tasks to do first. These requirements pose the greatest environmental risk and the highest penalties to the business if they are not completed.

Tier III — Operation and maintenance activities. If not completed, Tier III activities can lead to a serious top tier item.

Tier IV — Documentation of any spills, releases, responses, permits, tests, certifications, maintenance checks, repairs and other things the business does to address items in other boxes.
In order to illustrate procedures that would need to be done within each of the four tiers, we will use the example of the maintenance of a storage tank over a decade of its lifetime.

Tier I — Most Immediate. clean up spills, notify authorities
Tier I involves steps to detect and respond to a leak. Many oil, hazardous materials, water, air, and fire prevention programs require immediate notification of any release from a storage tank. If the tank releases oil or gasoline into the environment, owners must respond immediately and notify the appropriate authorities. Failure to take such actions can result in large penalties and may present great risks to the environment. Any business with a tank should make sure employees know what to do and who to call immediately after product loss, odor detection or an oily sheen in water bodies.

Small businesses should identify any potential direct release of pollutants to the environment and have plans to prevent such releases and standing operational orders about notification if releases occur.

Tier II — Get the correct permits and approvals
Once Tier I requirements have been met, the user can move to Tier II, which will identify any permit or approval needed for a business to operate or take specific actions. For example, if the business must replace the tank, local and sometimes state agencies require application and approval for the physical removal and replacement or closure of a tank. Generally, the tank owner would need to ask if air quality, water pollution, hazardous materials or toxic reduction permit or approval are needed.

Government agencies may penalize un-permitted activities if the violation is discovered in an inspection; however, self-reported violations will usually result in the reduction of any penalty. Businesses should make an effort to find any and all approvals required in the Tier II box and apply for any permits required upon discovery.

Tier III — Operate and maintain pollution control
Where does e-Compass lead next in the life of our tank? In many jurisdictions, operating gasoline stations requires the installation and appropriate operation and maintenance of vapor recovery systems. Some states adopted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements and new cars have on-board vapor recovery systems to prevent flammable, toxic and ozone-producing fumes from escaping the tank into the breathing zone. These systems require regular maintenance to check for leaky nozzles, hoses and other equipment so that they function properly.

Any business with a gasoline tank needs to pay attention to requirements in box three of our analysis under E 2365. This is important because a poorly maintained system will quickly leak un-permitted pollutants into the environment, placing the business right back into Tier I and II requirements that address potential direct releases to the environment.

Tier IV — Document, Document, Document
The final box of goodies in the life of the tank contains all documentation of any spills, releases, responses, permits, tests, certifications, maintenance checks, repairs and anything else the tank owner does to address the items in the other tiers. If the business is truly fastidious about its environmental compliance it should preserve all of its bragging rights about all the great things it did.

Much of the documentation in this tier is usually required by regulators for compliance purposes. If viewed in this way, perhaps all of the onerous record-keeping requirements won’t seem so tedious to the employees responsible.

All Tiers — Each Step needs pollution prevention analysis
Perhaps the most important aspect of e-Compass is the recommendation that each step include an evaluation of pollution prevention possibilities. The appendices of E 2365 contain examples to reduce pollution and the cost of business operations. One example is to substitute a less toxic product in a process, as shown in the following instances:

• Tier I — prevention of spills and damage from gasoline that is released may be much more costly to clean up than a bio blend that degrades more easily in the environment and is less toxic to wildlife.
• Tier III — operation and maintenance of vapor recovery is not needed for diesel fuels, especially the bio blends that are less volatile and not easily released into the air. If operation of a pollution control system like vapor recovery is no longer needed or required — goodbye paperwork, so no Tier IV for this item.

When you get to the end, start at the beginning again
ASTM E 2365 gets the user into the habit of routinely evaluating the business, identifying all the pertinent environmental requirements, sorting them into their boxes and then tackling each box in priority order. All of the things a business owner must do may then become less overwhelming. Once a pollution prevention analysis is complete, the owner has documented all required activities in Tier IV, and saved as much money as possible from a first round of analysis, it is time to start over.

Keep an eye on the ASTM Web site, as workshops on the new e-Compass guide are forthcoming. //

Acknowledgement — Jude Hutchinson, Just Out Photography, provided photographs and editing.

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