9 Environmental Consulting Predictions & Implications for 2021

New initiatives on Capitol Hill are guaranteed to catapult regulatory issues to the forefront. With every new presidential administration, environmental regulations are expected to evolve. The new administration is no exception. In fact, climate change initiatives are a central focus. 

The Clean Energy Revolution Plan vows that by 2050, the United States will be a 100% clean energy economy with net zero emissions. Within four years, there’s expected to be an enforcement mechanism in place to ensure the country stays on track to achieve that target. 

What does this mean for environmental compliance? Expect tighter regulations and new standards. The following nine points indicate predictions that have implications for businesses and for those who work in environmental consulting. 

1. The EPA Reforms Itself

The past four years saw a mass exodus from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a loosening or elimination of many standards. According to a February 2021 report by BuzzFeed News, an Environmental Integrity Project analysis found EPA evaluations and inspections decreased every year during the previous administration and were below levels previously reported over the past 20 years.

For those who work in environmental and EPA consulting, expect significant changes to the EPA. EPA spokesperson Nick Conger told BuzzFeed News that EPA officials were reviewing the previous administration’s policies and rules and would consider changing or eliminating any that weren’t in line with the new administration’s objectives. 

Businesses should expect the new administration to withdraw and repeal or replace various EPA rules promulgated by the EPA under the previous administration. Congress may also use the Congressional Review Act to overturn certain regulations, as well. 

Organizations will need to monitor changing EPA regulations and standards and ensure their businesses adhere to them.

2. Environmental Justice Becomes a More Prominent Issue

The current nominee to lead the EPA, Michael Regan, has a significant professional history working on “environmental justice” initiatives. 

For example, when Regan was Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), he created an Environmental Justice and Equity Board. This board created a community mapping system that used health and demographic information to inform NCDEQ decisions. This could serve as a model for future EPA decision-making.

As Environment & Energy Publishing reports, Regan is expected to be confirmed. If he is, expect revived and strengthened efforts to infuse the concept of environmental justice across federal agencies, especially the EPA, which has had an Office of Environmental Justice since 1992. 

Businesses will need to consider environmental justice in their operations. As the issue becomes more prominent on a national scale, customers and stakeholders may demand that it becomes a more prominent part of business missions and operations, as well.  

3. The Return of SEPs Creates Consulting Demand

During the previous administration, the Department of Justice phased out Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), which were voluntary projects with public health or environmental benefits. These projects were previously used as a component of enforcement settlement actions.

In February 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division overturned documents forbidding the use of SEPs. With the reinstatement of the SEP Policy, environmental consultants may be called upon once more to assist with SEP creation, strategy and guidance.

4. Increased Regulation of PFAS

PFAS are per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, which comprise a class of emerging chemicals. While the EPA created a PFAS Action Plan during the previous administration, the “National Law Review” expects PFAS federal regulatory efforts to move more swiftly under the new administration. 

Certain PFAS may soon be listed as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), for example. Also, expect the EPA to apply Safe Drinking Water Act standards to various PFAS. Businesses that work with or that are considering working with PFAS will need to remain vigilant about their regulations. 

5. Attention on Asbestos in the TSCA

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) gives the EPA expanded authority to regulate existing and new chemicals. The EPA under the previous administration included chrysotile asbestos as part of the group of “high priority” existing chemicals presenting “unreasonable risk.” The new administration EPA must propose rules to mitigate that unreasonable risk within a year and has an additional year after that to finalize proposals, according to JD Supra.

Expect the EPA to need to amend its TSCA Chemical Data Reporting Rule to require additional reporting from companies for issues like asbestos mold compliance. Businesses using asbestos and raw materials that may be contaminated with asbestos, like talc, should also be on alert, advises “National Law Review.” The heightened focus on asbestos risk in 2021 will likely affect companies in the cosmetics industry and other businesses using talc and/or asbestos-contaminated raw materials. 

6. Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards May Undergo Stricter Regulations 

The transportation sector is the largest source of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, producing 29% of GHG emissions in the U.S., according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Expect additional legislative limits on carbon emissions and possible stricter standards for vehicles with the initiatives proposed by the new administration.

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards may impact company fleets. In May 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA finalized Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for model years 2021-2026, increasing stringency for fuel economy and carbon dioxide standards by 1.5% each year. Environmental consultants may be called upon to evaluate business transportation and provide recommendations for lowering emissions. 

7. Continued Enforcement of FIFRA

During COVID-19, the EPA saw a significant demand in the approval process for cleaning and disinfecting products, pesticides and pesticide devices with COVID-effectiveness claims. A January 2021 report by Bergeson & Campbell PC stated the a surge in applications for disinfectant products caused EPA leadership to reallocate resources to provide more support for evaluating these types of products. 

Expect Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) enforcement efforts to continue to be heightened throughout 2021 due to the pandemic. Companies that produce these types of products will need to ensure they’re aware of any changes to FIFRA regulations.

8. Mandatory ESG Disclosures

While disclosures of environmental, social and governance (ESG) information has been a voluntary process led by shareholders and investors, “Compliance Week” reports public companies will likely be required to disclose GHG emissions and climate change-related risks under the new administration. 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) acting chair Allison Herren Lee has stated her support for mandatory ESG disclosures and climate risk reporting. The KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting 2020 report found ESG reporting is currently already on the rise, with 80% of companies reporting on operational sustainability in 2020, compared to 75% in 2019. 

Businesses must be prepared for mandatory ESG disclosure if they’re not already reporting on those metrics. 

The good news is that sustainability reporting can positively influence customer perception. A 2020 study by IBM and the National Retail Federation found nearly 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada thought it was important that a brand is eco-friendly or sustainable.  

9. Remote Employees Will Factor into GHG Inventories

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, more business operations moved online and accommodated for a remote workforce. In October 2020, McKinsey & Company reported out of organizations experiencing an increase in remote collaboration and/or working, 54% believed the change will stick. 

Businesses with an increase in remote workers must prepare to account for those workers in GHG inventories. Data like technology and equipment and the reduction of employee commuting can factor into emissions calculations.

For an example of what using remote work in a GHG inventory report is like, take a look at Mozilla’s 2019 GHG Inventory Report, released in 2020. Remote employees were bucketed into Emissions Scope 3, Category 7. Activity data included location, square footage, electricity supply details (i.e. % renewables) and count of key energy-consuming office equipment (computer, printer, lights, etc.)

Be Prepared for Environmental Consulting Changes: Hire an EHS Consultant

If you’re a small business owner, operations manager or safety manager, it’s crucial to protect your business amid changing regulations and evolving standards set forth by the new administration. You can consult with an Environment, Health & Safety professional who’s up-to-date on the latest guidelines to ensure your business is, too.

YellowBird has on-demand EHS pros who specialize in working with businesses in industries like yours. Find an EHS pro for your business. 

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