Environmental Audit and Inspection
The core function of the Inspections Section is to ensure observance of proper environmental safeguards in the execution of all development strategies, projects and policies that have or is likely to have significant impact on the environment. This function contributes to the strategic objective on strengthening compliance and enforcement of environmental laws. The key expected outcomes of successful implementation of this strategy include:
1. Increased self monitoring and auditing by permit holders;
2. Reduced public complaints;
3. Reduced water, air and land pollution;
4. Increased Environmental Auditing, and permit applications;
5. Increased regulated community participation in compliance monitoring; and
6. Reinforced credibility of environmental protection efforts.
The 4 key result areas to achieve the desired goal by Inspections and Audits Section are:
1. Enhance compliance monitoring, enforcement and reporting;
2. Strengthen compliance assistance for increased impact;
3. Ensure timely review and processing of Environmental Audits, and permit applications; and
4. Enhance data collection, processing and analysis for decision making.
As the name implies, these audits are intended to review the site's/company's legal compliance status in an operational context. Compliance audits generally begin with determining the applicable compliance requirements against which the operations will be assessed. This tends to include federal regulations, state regulations, permits and local ordinances/codes. In some cases, it may also include requirements within legal settlements.
Compliance audits may be multimedia or programmatic. Multimedia audits involve identifying and auditing all environmental media (air, water, waste, etc.) that apply to the operation/company. Programmatic audits (which may also be called thematic or media-specific) are limited in scope to pre-identified regulatory areas, such as air.
Audits are also focused on operational aspects of a company/site, rather than the contamination status of the real property. Assessments, studies.
Audit tools and technology
The term "protocol" means the checklist used by environmental auditors as the guide for conducting the audit activities. There is no standard protocol, either in form or content. Typically, companies develop their own protocols to meet their specific compliance requirements and management systems. Audit firms frequently develop general protocols that can be applied to a broad range of companies/operations.
Current technology supports many versions of computer-based protocols that attempt to simplify the audit process by converting regulatory requirements into questions with "yes", "no" and "not applicable" check boxes. Many companies and auditors find these useful and there are several such protocol systems commercially available. Other auditors (typically those with many years of environmental auditing experience) use the regulations/permits directly as protocols. There is a long standing debate among environmental audit professionals on the value of large, highly detailed and prescriptive protocols (i.e., that can, in theory, be completed by an auditor with little or no technical experience) versus more flexible protocols that rely on the expertise and knowledge of experienced auditors and source documents (regulations, permits, etc.) directly. However usage of structured and prescriptive protocols in ISO 14001 audits allows easier review by other parties, either internal to the Certification Body (e.g. technical reviewers and certification managers) or external (accreditation bodies).
In the US, permits for air emissions, wastewater discharges and other operational aspects, many times establish the primary legal compliance standards for companies. In these cases, auditing only to the regulations is inadequate. However, as these permits are site specific, standard protocols are not commercially available that reflect every permit condition for every company/site. Therefore, permit holders and the auditors they hire must identify the permit requirements and determine the most effective way to audit against those requirements.
During the past 20 years, advances in technology have had major impacts on auditing. Laptop computers, portable printers, CD/DVDs, the internet, email and wireless internet access have all been used to improve audits, increase/improve auditor access to regulatory information and create audit reports on-site. At one point in the 1990s, one major company invested significant resources in testing "video audits" where the auditor (located at the corporate headquarters) used real-time video conferencing technology to direct staff at a site to carry live video cameras to specific areas of the plant. While initially promising, this technology/concept did not prove acceptable. An emerging technology in environmental auditing is the use of tablet computers.