Implementing Environmental Management Systems in the Federal Government: Real Change or Flavor-of-the-Month?
Ortiz, James, Electronic Green Journal
Managing environmental conditions in federal facilities poses major challenges throughout the United States government. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are 12,153 regulated federal facilities nationwide. The increasing age of federal facilities along with decreasing agency budgets for equipment repair and replacement, and the shifting of dwindling resources into more politically attractive areas are increasingly problematic. However, the private sector's approach in applying management system principles to environmental issues has shown that they can be very effective. This organized approach of management system principles, also known as environmental management systems (EMS), can lead to more efficient and effective environmental management in federal facilities. For the federal government, EMSs are now the preferred means of managing facility environmental conditions. However, EMS implementation cannot be accomplished overnight. It takes commitment from all levels within federal agencies to implement EMSs since EMSs must be incorporated into day-to-day facility activities and operations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are 12,153 regulated federal facilities nationwide (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2004). Federal facilities 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. Depending upon their missions, federal agencies, just like their private sector counterparts, are required to comply with all federal, state, tribal and local environmental requirements and are not immune to enforcement actions. They are subject to fines and penalties by the EPA, state and local regulatory agencies for violations of environmental requirements (EPA, 1999, p. xv). Also, in those cases where federal agencies have facilities located overseas such as the Department of Defense (DOD), they are subject to the host nation's environmental requirements as well (U.S. Department of Defense, 1996, p. 2).
Managing the Environment at Federal Facilities
Managing the environmental conditions in federal facilities poses major challenges throughout the federal government due to the increasing age of federal facilities along with decreasing agency budgets for equipment repair and replacement, and the shifting of dwindling resources into more politically attractive areas (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dept. of Public Policy [UNC], 2003, p. 247). Also, many federal facilities are managed well, while others are poorly managed.
In calendar year 2001, 283 federal facilities reported that they were responsible for 79 million pounds of total releases in the Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPA, 2004, p. 44). Such releases by federal facilities do impact the environment and call for a more organized approach to address environmental issues. This organized approach of management system principles is called an environmental management system. The Project Final Report of the National Database on Environmental Management Systems defines an environmental management system (EMS) as "a formal set of policies and procedures that define how an organization will manage its potential impacts on the natural environment and on the health and welfare of the people who depend on it" (UNC, 2003, p. 5). The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (2004) defines an EMS as a "formal set of management processes and practices that enables an organization to manage and reduce its environmental impacts and operate with greater efficiency and control." According to Coglianese and Nash (2001), "EMS's set forth internal rules, create organizational structures, and direct resources that managers use to routinize behavior in order to help satisfy their organizations' environmental goals" (p. …