Compliance & Enforcement
DEQ is the state agency responsible for protecting Idaho's environment and citizens from the adverse health impacts of pollution. To fulfill this responsibility, DEQ is authorized by state law to require compliance with certain environmental laws, federal regulations, and state rules. Overall, DEQ has found that most individuals, businesses, and industries do their best to comply with environmental requirements. Compliance activities include traditional enforcement methods, such as inspections and public complaint response, as well as technical assistance and education and outreach.
Inspections of industrial sources of pollution are conducted periodically by DEQ staff to ensure that environmental protection requirements and, if applicable, permit operating conditions, are being met. DEQ inspectors are authorized by the Idaho Environmental Protection and Health Act to enter and inspect facilities. Inspections are generally unannounced.
Before conducting an inspection, the inspector reviews the facility's files to become familiar with its equipment, processes, and compliance history, and to identify the laws, rules, and permit conditions that govern its operations. During the inspection, the inspector typically tours the facility, observes its operations, and reviews records to determine the facility's compliance with the laws, rules, and permit requirements. The inspector discusses his findings with the facility representative before leaving the premises and later documents these findings in a written inspection report. If DEQ determines that the facility has violated the laws or rules or the provisions of its permit, the inspector may recommend that an enforcement action be initiated.
Public Complaint Response/Referrals
DEQ staff are often called upon to respond to complaints from the public about pollution. Complaints also may be received or referred from other local, state, or federal agencies such as Public Health Districts, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Upon receipt of a complaint, DEQ inspectors perform an on-site investigation to determine if a law, rule, or permit has been violated. If the inspector determines violations have occurred, the inspector may recommend enforcement action be taken.
On-site technical consultations are an important way that DEQ helps businesses meet state environmental requirements. In cooperation with Idaho's Small Business Environmental Solutions Program and DEQ's Pollution Prevention Program, DEQ staff work with business owners to:
- Identify sources of and ways to prevent pollution,
- Encourage sound environmental practices,
- Provide assistance to and liaison with other agency staff on permit processing, application filing, regulatory compliance, and fees issues, and
- Conduct permit handoffs to explain the requirements of newly issued permits.
For more information or technical assistance, contact your nearest DEQ Regional Office.
Education and Outreach
DEQ relies upon various education and outreach efforts to inform the public and the regulated community of pollution prevention opportunities and environmental requirements and to encourage compliance with federal and state laws and rules. These efforts include:
- Issuing news releases on agency actions
- Soliciting public comment on draft guidance documents and proposed permits
- Developing and disseminating brochures and other informational materials explaining new or revised permit requirements, reporting procedures, and fees
- Developing new, easy-to-understand information on environmental issues for DEQ's website
Once it has been determined by the inspector that a violation apparently has occurred, the next step is to determine the appropriate course of action. Many factors are considered in deciding the appropriate enforcement action. Such factors include the number of previous violations, seriousness and types of previous violations, and willingness to comply. The choices can include, but are not limited to:
- Issuing a warning letter,
- Issuing a notice of violation,
- Refering the case to the Attorney General's office for civil or criminal enforcement, or
- Refering the case to other relevant local, state, or federal enforcement agencies for enforcement consideration.
In the case of air quality violations only, inspectors also have the option of immediately issuing a field notice of violation (FNOV). An FNOV is intended to respond to minor violations or visible emissions, open burning, and fugitive dust requirements. The inspector may assess a minimum base penalty of $250 and increase amounts if the violation occurs during a declared air pollution emergency or in an air quality nonattainment area.
A warning letter is an informal tool for gaining compliance without resorting to a more formal method such as a notice of violation. Warning letters inform the responsible party of apparent deficiencies or violations and request corrective actions within a certain time. An inspector may choose to issue a warning letter to address violations that are few in number, minor, and easily corrected in a limited time with minimal oversight by DEQ. Typically, the violations addressed in a warning letter can be resolved promptly.
Notice of Violation
A notice of violation (NOV) is DEQ's formal legal means of informing responsible parties that violations of rules or permits have occurred. An NOV includes a listing of the violations at the facility, an assessed penalty amount for each violation, and a description of the procedure for negotiating an agreement designed to return the facility to compliance in a timely manner.
After the NOV is issued, a compliance conference usually follows. Representatives of the facility and DEQ meet to review and discuss the apparent violations and settlement alternatives. When the parties reach an agreement on how to resolve the violations listed in the NOV, a consent order is drafted outlining corrective actions to be taken, time schedules to complete requirements, and terms for payment of a penalty, if applicable. Under Idaho's Idaho Environmental Protection and Health Act, violators are subject to civil penalties up to $10,000 per day per violation.
DEQ generally has 60 days from issuance of the NOV to reach resolution of the violations. If an agreement cannot be reached, DEQ may refer the case for a civil enforcement action through the state Attorney General's office to compel compliance, penalty payment, and other injunctive or monetary relief deemed appropriate.
Supplemental Environmental Projects
A supplemental environmental project (SEP) is an environmentally beneficial project that DEQ may allow a facility that has been found in violation of an environmental regulation to implement in lieu of or to reduce a cash penalty. The SEP must go beyond what is required to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. The SEP may be one of four types of projects:
- pollution prevention: reduces at the source the amount or toxicity of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise being released into the environment.
- pollution reduction: employs recycling, treatment, containment, or disposal techniques to reduce the amount of toxicity of a pollutant or waste stream that already has been generated or released.
- public awareness: includes publications, broadcasts, or seminars aimed at the regulated community that underscore the importance of environmental compliance, pollution reduction, and/or pollution prevention. These efforts may be accomplished by donations to non-profit groups. They may also include emergency planning efforts, preparedness support, or training for emergency response, planning entities, or other groups.
- environmental enhancement: goes beyond repairing the environmental damage caused by a violation to protect, restore, or otherwise enhance the environment. This type of project may include donations to local governments or non-profits to support environmental programs or projects or to conduct research.
Under appropriate circumstances, SEPs are viewed as win-win resolutions to environmental violations. The facility is given the opportunity to fund a worthwhile environmental project in lieu of a portion of the cash penalty, and the state and the public benefit from the environmental benefits and knowledge gained as a result of the project.