WASHINGTON-The rubber industry wants more than the Environmental Protection Agency is giving in noncompliance penalty reductions for small business. Announced May 23, the new EPA policy eliminates or reduces penalties for businesses with 100 or fewer employees who commit minor violations of regulations while making a ``good-faith effort'' to comply.
Good faith, the EPA said, may be demonstrated by:
requesting and getting on-site federal or state compliance assistance, during which violations are uncovered;
voluntarily reporting the violation as part of a confidential assistance program; or
voluntarily reporting the violation as part of an in-house environmental audit.
To qualify for the penalty waiver, the company must be a ``first-time'' violator. According to the EPA, this means the company must not have been part of any EPA enforcement action for the past three years, or two or more actions in the past five years.
The violation must not cause or threaten serious harm to the public or the environment, and it must not involve criminal conduct. Also, the company must remedy the violation within six months of its discovery.
For companies meeting all these criteria, all penalties will be waived, the agency said. For those who take longer than six months to correct a violation, the EPA will waive or cut punitive damages, but may seek the full amount of economic damages.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association considers the policy, effective June 10, ``a step in the right direction,'' said Peter J. Pantuso, RMA vice president of public affairs. But it feels the penalty waiver should not be limited to companies of 100 or fewer employees, and that the reporting requirements are onerous.
``If a company corrects its violations and makes a good-faith effort to comply with the law, that should be enough,'' Mr. Pantuso said. ``This policy reflects the EPA's tendency to value paperwork over actual environmental benefit.''
The International Tire and Rubber Association also feels the EPA is not going far enough in protecting small business. Roy E. Littlefield III, ITRA government relations director, said his members' main concern is with the Clinton administration proposal on Superfund, which would bar liability exemptions to companies with more than 25 employees or more than $2 million in annual sales.
``This threshold will hurt a lot of companies that don't make that much money, but which have sales of more than $2 million,'' he said.