For EHS leaders facing constant changes in chemical inventories and regulatory requirements, collecting EHS data for Tier II reporting on a continual basis promotes informed decision making.

To make the kinds of environmental compliance decisions that prevent non-compliance violations, EHS leaders must have clear, accurate, up to date data readily available at all times

Yet even the most seasoned EHS managers and professionals say collecting facility data for Tier II reports can be exhausting. Decentralized systems, spreadsheets, and a basic lack of time and structure often make the process harder than it should be. But there’s are better ways to get ahead of data collection for Tier II reporting.

 


Continuous Tier II Data Collection: Best Practices and Takeaways

In the first of a 3-part March to March virtual event series from Encamp, we discussed how to improve the data collection process for Tier II by rethinking it. To start, here are three best practices to consider:

    1. Make time to collect and validate compliance data regularly throughout the year. When Tier II data isn’t available or becomes outdated, it’s hard to fill the cracks. 
    2. Standardize data collection processes to make them repeatable year after year. This drives efficiency — and means no more starting from scratch every reporting year.
    3. Identify evergreen tasks that compliance stakeholders can complete at any time during the year. Any completed task is a head start to meeting the Tier II reporting deadline.

At Encamp, we can’t say this enough: The secret to ensuring accurate Tier II reporting is to make data collection a continuous priority first. 

Make more time to collect and validate compliance data 

Depending on chemical inventories, classifications (see the EPA List of Lists), Tier II reporting thresholds and the number of facilities a team must report, one or two months to gather needed compliance information for reporting isn’t always enough. To fully meet EPCRA guidelines, collected EHS data must also be validated and checked for completeness. Where multiple states are involved or when regulations have been updated or changed, EHS operations must additionally verify data applicability for Tier II reporting requirements

Almost every EHS professional we’ve worked with expresses how tracking down compliance data for a Tier II report is too time-consuming. Sometimes it can literally take weeks or even months, on top of other compliance and sustainability initiatives their team is responsible for. But given the consequences of constant regulatory changes, potential reporting violations, and non-compliance, data collection is a critical task — and EHS leaders must make time for their team to complete it. So instead of starting data collection in January, why not implement a more continuous process from August through December to have data ready to review in January?

 

Continuous EHS data collection for Tier II promotes informed decision making in response to constant changes in chemical inventories and regulatory requirements.


Standardize and streamline data collection tasks

The lack of time and a structured process for data collection makes Tier II reporting more difficult than it should be. However, rushing compliance reporting can result in invalidated data and missing details that regulators see as red flags. The following safeguards can be invaluable for EHS teams.

More specifically, streamline data collection tasks for distributed facilities — which is especially critical when sites are located in various states. Technology-wise, systems like Encamp let your team digitize and centralize data for product inventories, then standardize the process your facilities and EHS operations use to gather and validate that data. Once a process becomes a standardized function, making it repeatable is an inherent next step to streamlining data collection tasks over an extended period of time, as well as from one facility to the next.

Further, when technology is a single unified platform, it provides a foundation on which to integrate to existing enterprise systems, build data pipelines to individual facilities, and create a core data repository that all EHS data feeds into from these and other sources, such as spreadsheets and even emails. Archiving data this way, along with previous years’ Tier II reports, also gives you a comprehensive, auditable record that regulators appreciate.

Make Tier II reporting strategic across sites

At the facility level, site managers should be able to confirm their facility’s compliance responsibilities by fully determining current product inventory, including thresholds for each reportable chemical. Managers should then reach out to their respective State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) and Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to make sure the data being collected is in accordance with specific state and local requirements.

For EHS operations, this approach makes Tier II reporting more strategic across sites. More importantly, it provides a safety net to keep details from slipping through the cracks that could result in reporting non-compliance. 

Get evergreen tasks out of the way early

Again, the process for EHS data collection is better when collection and validation tasks are scheduled on an extended timeline. It sounds simple, but this is where starting data collection and completing associated tasks in August instead of January-February is a benefit for EHS professionals who are constantly stretched for time. Starting earlier in the year also fits the rule of thumb to have EHS data ready to review by early January for the March 1 Tier II filing date.

From August through December, for instance, focus on evergreen tasks that can be completed at any time: Track changes to reporting requirements at all levels. Confirm emergency contacts at your facilities and update their info as needed. Get in touch with appropriate SERCs, LEPCs and Fire Departments to answer any questions you have, and to build and maintain those relationships. Even review and update things like facility sitemaps and safety data sheets (SDSs). 

Come crunch time to start compiling your Tier II reports, evergreen tasks such as these will already be completed.

 

Data equals knowledge. The earlier you have data, the better position you’ll be in to make informed reporting decisions.


A Checklist to Simplify the Tier II Data Collection Process
 

In collecting EHS data for Tier II reporting, a checklist is a foundation to standardize and track data collection tasks across facilities. But the new Tier II checklist from Encamp’s regulatory compliance experts goes a step further. 

For continuous compliance throughout the year, it lets EHS operations prioritize data collection tasks from August to December while creating a data gathering process that’s streamlined, repeatable and efficient. The intent of this timeframe is to have all data collected the first week of January, while allowing compliance stakeholders to analyze and validate data as information is collected, eliminate gaps (and doubt) in the data itself, and make informed reporting decisions as part of the process. The extended timeframe for data collection further allows more time to compile and submit final Tier II reports before the March 1 due date for EPCRA. 

    1. Annual Tier II reports often rely on a variety of data managed by different groups of people: EHS leaders, teams, facility managers, and other stakeholders such as purchasing and shipping departments. Encamp’s centralized platform for direct data entry and tracking reduces the time and effort required to aggregate data across your organization — and do so accurately. 
    2. Along with collecting data for a new reporting year, EHS leaders must often compare it with reporting data from previous years to make sure any and all changes are accounted for. This is where leaders can confirm changes to product inventories, thresholds, regulations, emergency contacts at facilities level and so on. Comparing data lets them determine whether certain new EPCRA notifications must be submitted, or even when Tier II reports don’t need to be filed. 
    3. Environmental laws continually evolve and are regularly amended on both a state and local level, which makes it difficult to collect and track data specific to a compliance program’s requirements. With Encamp, automated threshold calculations for each product can be applied broadly across the organization rather than in a piecemeal fashion during report compilation. Adjusting threshold calculations because of a regulation or permit change is much more manageable when a set of calculations is automated and tracked in a single platform. 

Getting started on Tier II data collection

The following tasks for data collection are just one segment of Encamp’s Tier II checklist.

Evergreen tasks that you can do monthly:

One final, critical note: Sitemaps are important information for first responders to have in the case of an incident, as are SDSs and the info for facility emergency contacts. For every facility that falls under EPCRA requirements, updating this information anytime something changes is a crucial step that states often require for Tier II reports. 

Watch the March to March: Data Collection webinar on-demand for more expert insights on successful Tier II reporting.

Transforming the way enterprises stay in compliance 

Encamp is on a mission to create a world where good for business can equal good for the environment. We help enterprises transform compliance programs and human processes into a technology-driven system that lays the foundation for accurate and ongoing environmental compliance through a blended method of intelligent high-tech solutions and high-touch expert support.

As if environmental compliance reporting isn’t confusing enough. What chemicals, for instance, does the EPA consider “hazardous.” If they are hazardous, what are their Tier II reporting thresholds? And why do Tier II reporting requirements (a.k.a., Tier 2 reporting requirements) for states and local jurisdictions constantly change? 

When EPA reports are inaccurate, incomplete, or never even filed when they’re required to be, the last thing compliance leaders need are notifications of non-compliance and potential EPA violation fines. Nor do many EHS teams have the time and resources to spend on remediating EPA violations, instead of working on higher priority initiatives like sustainability. 

Within the scope of environmental compliance reporting, the best way to avoid any violation is to first understand what constitutes non-compliance. Equally vital is understanding how proper reporting can guard against your organization being reported in environmental complaints or for a company violation of some kind.

What Is an EPA Violation Where Reporting is Concerned?

There are far too many potential causes of compliance and Tier 2 reporting violations to delve into here. There’s also no “official” EPA violations list, per se. But a good example of documented violation triggers comes from an EPA alert that took effect in November 2021 for Tier 2 reporting year 2022.

To address chemical storage concerns for EPCRA, the EPA issued an Enforcement Alert on the Risks of Improper Storage of Hazardous Chemicals at Chemical Warehouses and Distribution Facilities. The Alert noted that businesses filing compliance reports constantly failed to:

Among these concerns, the failure to submit a Tier II form is clearly a violation. Less clear, however, is an issue such as an up-to-date Safety Data Sheet (SDS). 

Safety Data Sheets are often outdated

Even when SDSs are filed as needed to meet Tier 2 reporting requirements, they’re often outdated and don’t meet OSHA’s modified Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The HCS guideline in turn conforms to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Given that compliance stakeholders must sometimes manage hundreds of SDSs for their product inventory, then, HCS and GHS guidelines can easily get overlooked and be cited as an EPA report violation. 

Worse than a reporting violation, outdated Safety Data Sheets can put first responders and communities in danger when the latest safety information for hazardous chemicals isn’t fully made available.

But a much worse consequence is that out-of-date SDSs can put first responders and local communities in danger when the latest safety information for hazardous chemicals isn’t fully made available. Fortunately, EHS-based technology can now actually extract and update the information in SDSs to ensure the information they contain is accurate. 

Other common errors in EPA reports that can lead to violations 

Outdated and insufficient SDSs are just one of many common Tier II reporting errors EHS teams encounter every year. For program areas like EPCRA and RCRA, such errors often result from having to interpret EPA reporting requirements that change constantly — especially at the state and local level — or that aren’t always clear to begin with. A good example is how to report mixtures for lead-acid batteries and the confusion it can lead to. 

A lack of visibility

Another root cause of reporting errors is not having adequate visibility into information and compliance data. Along with SDSs, for example, errors in chemical inventory lists and reporting thresholds can easily go undetected if not monitored regularly. Outdated emergency contact and site plan info at facilities likewise often goes undetected until it’s pointed out in an EPA notice of violation. Like outdated SDSs in the event of a disaster, not being able to reach an emergency contact or knowing where hazardous chemicals are stored at a site can put first responders at risk. 

The EPA reportable quantity list

Other frequent errors can be traced to the EPA reportable quantity list, commonly known as the List of Lists, for chemicals reported under EPCRA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA). One common issue stemming from the list is that businesses incorrectly mark chemicals as extremely hazardous substances (EHSs). Here again, a lack of visibility into chemical inventories can result in chemicals being mislabeled or miscounted by way of quantity. 

Further, especially in distributed companies, chemicals often tend to get reported inconsistently across facilities, leaving chemical inventories to get reported inaccurately. By digitizing data for chemical lists, inventories, threshold quantities and so on, compliance leaders and EHS teams can more effectively manage their product inventory and properly identify chemicals to avoid non-compliance violations. 

Or, as was the case in the following EPA violation, a company can simply fail to report certain chemicals when required.

EPA violation fines and settlements: One recent example

In one recent example of EPA cases and settlements, the agency took action against a chemical warehousing company in June 2022 for “unsafe practices and inadequate reporting.” Environmental complaints in the case centered on “alleged” violations of both the CAA’s General Duty Clause (GDC) and EPCRA requirements for reporting years 2019 and 2020. (The recurring reporting violations likely did not sit well with EPA inspectors.)

Specifically, the warehousing company failed to report several EHSs under EPCRA Section 311 and 312 chemical inventory reporting requirements, and in line with CAA GDC requirements applicable to “sources producing, processing, handling, or storing EHSs.” As part of the EPA settlement, the company agreed to pay a penalty of $109,635, and to certify compliance with all of its CAA GDC and EPCRA requirements under the watchful eye of the EPA. The company also likely damaged its reputation — as a business, as a member of the community, and as a steward of the environment. 

Could more proactive environmental compliance reporting processes and guardrails like data visibility and automated regulatory alerts have helped prevent this particular EPA case? Most likely, yes. And as far as EPA violation fines go, the six-figure penalty in this case was steep, but not uncommon.

Are EPA violations getting more costly? 

In a compliance snapshot of EPA reports and non-compliance violations from Q4 2020, 150 settlement agreements for EPA violations cases resulted in total financial penalties of nearly $4.6 million for the timeframe. Most notable among them was one fuel distribution company that was fined more than $1.3 million when it violated the EPCRA Section 313 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and “failed to report the releases of several TRI-listed chemicals at its terminals, denying the public access to this information.” Yet again, such a failure put first responders and the nearby area at risk.  

Are steeper financial punishments like this warranted for companies that get cited for an EPA report violation? That’s really up to the Environmental Protection Agency administrators. But in the instance of the chemical warehousing company that failed to meet its EPCRA obligations, at least, the nearly $110,000 penalty they paid was part of a new EPA commandment.   

As EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash put it, “EPA was particularly concerned that emergency responders were not provided adequate information about the type and amount of chemicals stored on site, and that the facility is located in an area with environmental justice concerns.

“With this settlement, EPA is sending a strong message to companies that deal with dangerous chemicals — they have an obligation to comply with environmental laws in order to protect the communities around them.” 

Congress enacted EPCRA almost 40 years ago to protect local communities and emergency responders from potential accidents at facilities that manufacture, store, distribute or use hazardous chemicals. That’s why environmental compliance reporting has mattered since then, and still matters now.

Transforming the way enterprises stay in compliance 

Encamp is on a mission to create a world where good for business can equal good for the environment. We help enterprises transform compliance programs and human processes into a technology-driven system that lays the foundation for accurate and ongoing environmental compliance through a blended method of intelligent high-tech solutions and high-touch expert support.

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