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3 critical factors in responding to an EPA information request letter

It is a moment of dread for most business owners and executives: Receiving an information request letter (IRL) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Simply understanding what is being asked in a letter like this can be challenging. The EPA’s website has an explanation of IRLs for Superfund sites, along with links to examples of the types of questions they will ask different operations. Clearly, these requests get extremely complicated and demanding. In addition to the immediate time and resources needed to reply to an IRL, mistakes or lack of compliance could be catastrophic if uncovered by the EPA.

There are a few critical things to keep in mind after receiving an IRL:

  1. A timely response is critical: The IRL will include something about a deadline for when your completed reply needs to be submitted and how to submit it. If you fail to comply on time, it could be costly to your business.
  2. A complete, accurate response is critical: Due to the complex nature of the inquiry, as well as the time and expense required for making a response, it is easy to cut some corners and allow slight oversights to sneak into the response. However, estimates, educated guesses and sloppy proofreading in your response could result in serious ramifications. There are fines and penalties for errant reporting to the EPA. Further, if your reports mislead the EPA investigators and they uncover evidence of non-compliance, your business could be facing legal sanctions.
  3. Working with an experienced attorney is critical: There is too much at stake to wing it or to cut corners with your response to the EPA’s letter. A lawyer who handles corporate environmental issues will bring an understanding of all facets of the issues involved, including knowledge of the environmental factors, knowledge of the EPA’s processes, and knowledge of your company’s rights and options. An attorney will help you answer the inquiry in a way that is timely and thorough, without error. Further, an attorney can see past the letter itself to advise you of your rights and options.

As a business owner or executive, it is important to think through your response and your approach to how your company handles environmental issues. When the EPA sends a request for information, you need to respond honestly and accurately in a timely manner, and you need to preemptively protect your business from issues that can arise from failure to comply.