The Importance of Compliance with EPA Method 9

Excerpt from Online Visible Emissions Course

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The role of law in visible emissions observations

From the EPA

...visible emission determinations for compliance demonstration or enforcement purposes must be made accurately and must be sufficiently well documented to withstand rigorous examination in potential enforcement proceedings, administrative or legal hearings, or eventual court litigation.
Source: Visible Emissions Field Manual - EPA Methods 9 and 22 Page 2

The Importance of Compliance

As a visible emissions observer, it is important to realize that the observations you perform are to comply with air pollution laws and regulations. Your organization can face exceptionally large fines if it is not compliant with environmental laws or EPA Method 9. To protect your organization, opacity readings must be accurate and completely documented to be legally defensible.

There are several legal aspects involved in opacity readings:

  • Method 9 certification (field and lecture) must be kept current.
  • Visible emissions observations must be performed correctly and accurately.
  • The VEO form must be completed correctly, including the recording of conditions during the reading.
  • VEO records must be maintained and available for audits.

Procedural errors or omissions on the VEO evaluation form or data sheet can invalidate your reading and result in a violation. It is important to carefully follow Method 9 procedures and properly complete the VEO form.

It is important to note that violations of opacity limits, failure to follow proper procedures, or failure to fill out a VEO form accurately, can result in fines of up to $37,500 per source, per standard, per day.

How Compliance is Enforced

The EPA's regional offices are responsible for compliance operations. Federal opacity standards and SIP regulations are independently enforceable (per source, per violation, per day). Enforcement mechanisms include:

  • Notice of violation (NOV) - this is the most common method of enforcement. It informs the organization that it has violated a district rule, state law, or a permit condition. NOVs may result in monetary penalties.
  • An administrative order which may be associated with penalties.
  • Civil judicial actions - formal lawsuits that arise when organizations fail to comply with NOVs, administrative orders, or pay fines.
  • Criminal actions - for serious violations that are willful or knowingly committed.
Opacity Reader Liability

As stated above, your organization's liability for non-compliance with federal and local regulations can be very costly. As a visible emissions observer, what are your liabilities?

  • Individuals who perform opacity readings are not criminally charged for incorrect/invalid readings. Notice of violation charges are pursued with the facility/organization in civil court.
  • If you falsely document a visible emission reading when one has not been completed, you can be charged with fraud.

As long as an observer does not willingly violate Method 9 standards, or fraudently document readings, they are not legally liable. However, you should remember that as an employee, you are representing your organization and are responsible for completing VEO forms, which are legal documents.

More information about EPA enforcement can be found on the EPA website.


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