Environmental Responsibilities of Senior Federal Managers: Doing What Is Right

Article excerpt

The whys and hows of initiating successful environmental management and minimizing one's environmental liability.

Environmental requirements are a complex system of statutes, regulations, executive orders, and guidelines. They usually begin as broad statutes established by Congress or state legislatures, which are implemented by federal and state environmental regulatory agencies through regulations. In addition, environmental requirements may be established by executive orders from the president. Furthermore, Congress, or state legislative bodies, or administrative agencies can change these statutes and regulations and the courts can interpret these statutes and regulations when disputes arise.

With more than 30 federal environmental laws alone, federal agencies, just like private industry, are required to comply with all federal, state, tribal, and local environmental requirements. It is estimated that there are approximately 14,400 federal facilities nationwide that are involved in such diverse operations as airports, construction, fish and wildlife management, hospitals, laboratories, industrial scale operations, materials storage and shipment, military and naval operations, public lands management, and vehicle fleet management.

Environmental requirements affect many operations at federal facilities, including water discharge, sewage treatment, power plant operations, waste management, cultural and natural resource management, and historic preservation. Also, this includes the protection of our natural and cultural resources, both for support of a federal agency's mission and for the public. Protection of our natural and cultural resources includes management of lands, coastal areas and seashores, forests, fish and wildlife, historic buildings, and archeological resources. Many federal agencies employ either technical staff or contractors to handle these environmental requirements.

Potential Liability

Depending upon their missions, many federal agencies must comply with a broad scope of environmental requirements. This involves actions and management responsibilities encompassing a wide range of activities that are regulated under major environmental laws. Federal agencies and their facilities are not immune from enforcement actions. They are subject to fines and penalties by the Environmental Protection Agency and state and local regulatory agencies for violations of environmental requirements. Also, in those cases where federal agencies have facilities located overseas (e.g., military), they are subject to the host nation s environmental requirements as well.

Environmental compliance is a measure of a federal facility's status with respect to the many federal, state, and local environmental requirements. [1] A federal facility's environmental compliance status can vary according to specific environmental requirements. For example, a federal facility could be in compliance with air quality regulations, but out of compliance with hazardous waste regulations. Coordination of environmental management in federal facilities is not only necessary for complying with federal, state, and local requirements but also for benefiting an agency's mission by keeping operations on schedule and maintaining good public relations with surrounding communities.

Expectations of Senior Federal Managers

Federal executives and senior federal managers must be aware of and comply with federal, state, local, and in the case of overseas, host-nation environmental requirements. While federal executives and senior federal managers are not necessarily meant to be experts in these numerous environmental requirements, it is reasonable to expect that they have an overall general awareness of environmental requirements. This is especially important for all federal executives and senior-level managers who have federal facilities under their direction. Furthermore, a federal agency cannot hope to meet its regulatory requirements without direct involvement of its senior management. …