If you find a citation from EPA in the mail, don't be surprised if it also includes an offer to eliminate part of the penalty if your company undertakes certain environmental projects.

As part of its commitment to provide more flexible enforcement, EPA in May announced a revised Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) policy. SEPs are environmentally beneficial projects that a violator is not legally required to perform, but which are included in an enforcement settlement in exchange for a reduced penalty.

While part of the goal of fines is to ensure that companies don't benefit from non-compliance, these supplemental projects also help ensure that a settlement benefits public health and the environment as much as possible, the agency says.

This recent announcement, a revision of the the SEP policy issued in 1991, more clearly defines allowable SEP projects and clarifies some legal issues that had been raised with previous agreements. The new policy also expands the number of permissible categories of projects and provides more guidance on the calculation of SEP costs and the percentage of those costs that can be applied toward reducing the penalty.

Supplemental environmental projects can fall into seven categories. These include such actions as environmental audits and assessments, pollution prevention, pollution reduction, and environmental restoration projects.

SEPs could also involve compliance promotion activities such as providing training or technical support to others in the regulated community, and emergency planning support, such as providing technical assistance and training to state and local emergency response organizations to help them prepare for emergencies.