What Is the Texas Environmental, Health, and Safety Audit Privilege Act?
The Texas Environmental, Health, and Safety Audit Privilege Act (Act) was originally enacted in 1995. The purpose of the Act is the encouragement of voluntary compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations. In addition, the Act incentivizes voluntary audits by facilities. Under the Act, facilities that voluntarily conduct audits are immune from civil and administrative penalties for violations that are uncovered and disclosed as a result of the voluntary audit. The Act also provides privilege for reports submitted in accordance with its requirements. The Act does not, however, provide immunity or privilege for criminal violations, and it doesn’t apply to federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency.
When a facility chooses to conduct a voluntary audit in order to take advantage of the immunity and privilege offered by the Act, it is required to submit a written Notice of Audit (NOA) to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) prior to beginning the audit. When violations are discovered during an audit, they must be reported to TCEQ via a Disclosure of Violations (DOV) notice. If a DOV is not submitted following the discovery of violations, then the auditing facility will not be afforded immunity from the penalties associated with the violations. In addition, it is important to note that NOA and DOV letters are not privileged documents. Therefore, all NOAs and DOVs that are submitted to TCEQ are available to the public. Privileged information, however, will remain protected if it is designated as such. In order to determine what kind of information is considered privileged, it is advisable to consult with experienced Texas environmental counsel prior to initiating the audit process.
When to Conduct a Voluntary Audit
It is advisable that organizations conduct audits:
On a regular basis;
Following a management change;
When a new company or site is acquired; and
When an Environmental Health and Safety Manager assumes responsibility for a site.
If you or your company need guidance on how to go about conducting a voluntary audit under the Texas Environmental, Health, and Safety Audit Privilege Act, then you need an experienced Texas attorney like C. William Smalling on your side. C. William Smalling, with a background in engineering, understands both the technical and legal aspects of situations affecting corporations in the oil, gas, and energy industries. Whether advising companies on voluntary audits, negotiating with the government, or litigating government enforcement actions and private tort suits, the experience of C. William Smalling provides corporate clients with a significant edge in all oil, gas, and energy matters. We take pride in providing our business clients with the legal tools to remain confident while navigating the complicated world of environmental regulations. If your company needs guidance of any kind in the area of environmental law, please contact the Law Office of C. William Smalling for a consultation.