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Small Communities Compliance and Enforcement

Small communities and small local government often have more difficulty complying with environmental regulations than larger local governments do. They disproportionately face challenges related to technical, managerial and financial capacity that can result in environmental violations despite their best efforts. Small local governments may not have trained environmental professionals on staff. Their part-time elected officials may be unaware of environmental requirements that apply to governmental operations. If told they are in noncompliance, they may not know how to correct their problems. Because they provide essential public services, small local governments often do not have the option of shutting down a violating operation. The cost burdens of necessary capital improvements fall upon a small tax base and a small pool of ratepayers often must pay higher per household costs for services.

To promote improved environmental compliance among small communities and small local governments, EPA has taken action to increase their awareness of their environmental responsibilities, provide them the information they need to correct violations, and provide them with a framework for correcting violations in the context of achieving and sustaining comprehensive compliance.

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The Small Local Government Compliance Assistance Policy (PDF), June 2004 (10 pp, 129K) and Summary (PDF) (2 pp, 296K) promotes environmental compliance by allowing penalty reductions for small local governments that achieve comprehensive compliance or implement an Environmental Management System (EMS). The Policy explains how EPA will generally defer to a state's decision to reduce or waive the normal noncompliance penalty for a small local government that either commits to (and subsequently achieves) compliance with all of the environmental requirements that apply to its governmental operations, or commits to correct all of its known violations and to develop (and subsequently implements) an environmental management system (EMS) for its governmental operations. Removing the fear of a large penalty encourages small local governments to learn about their environmental obligations and to develop the technical, managerial, and financial capacity necessary to achieve and sustain comprehensive environmental compliance.

Resources available to help local governments achieve and sustain environmental compliance include:

Local governments can find more information about these and other resources in:

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