One of Director Craig Butler’s major initiatives during 2015 was the creation of a “one-stop shop” environment within Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) for customers seeking technical and financial resources to help them achieve compliance. Like many states, Ohio has seen the environmental benefits that come through education, outreach, and innovative approaches to promote stewardship. Many of the agency’s regulated entities are familiar with the voluntary, non-regulatory programs it offers. However, many are not. Smaller businesses and communities have limited time to search for the resources and tools available to them and can quickly get lost trying to navigate the agency for information that is relevant to them.
The goal of this initiative is to enhance the way in which OEPA serves its customers and to improve the agency’s internal operations through a more efficient, coordinated, and strategic approach to administering resources. By realigning some of its key compliance and funding programs, the agency is more strongly positioned to help even more regulated entities with a greater level of service.
On May 1, 2015, Butler announced the merger of OEPA’s Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention (OCAPP) and its Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance (DEFA). The new division retains the name of DEFA, however, it administers several of the agency’s core programs and services to support compliance and community development, including:
- Administering State Revolving Fund loan programs, historically totaling up to $300 million annually, to help communities construct and maintain wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.
- Providing on-site technical assistance and training to help small community wastewater treatment plants improve operations and efficiency.
- Providing compliance assistance resources to help thousands of small businesses annually comply with environmental regulations through onsite assistance and assist with completing forms, training events, plain-English publications, and other services.
- Helping entities identify and implement pollution prevention measures that save them money, increase performance, and benefit the environment.
- Providing funding for recycling, litter cleanup, and scrap tire management activities, and identifying market development opportunities to support Ohio’s efforts to recycle materials such as glass, plastics, rubber, and construction and demolition debris.
- Recognizing the outstanding efforts of businesses, communities, and other entities making a commitment to environmental stewardship through OEPA’s Encouraging Environmental Excellence Program.
DEFA also includes an Office of Outreach and Customer Support (OCS) that will implement a proactive marketing and outreach strategy to inform businesses and communities of its services. It is important that regulated entities not only understand what resources are available, but that the agency makes itself available through OCS to guide them through the process of getting help.
Results to Date:
Since the new DEFA was announced on May 1, OEPA has received very positive feedback from external stakeholders. Internally, the agency has more efficiently organized several programs located throughout various parts of the agency into a single division, and it now has a core staff of over 50 people with assistance-related job responsibilities. Since the merger, OEPA has already identified several projects on which it will collaborate internally to provide regulatory, technical, and/or potential funding assistance. This reorganization effort has required a significant level of planning over the past nine months, and OEPA foresees that the implementation process to fully bring everything together will take some time. However, the agency is confident that bringing these resources together under one division will improve responsiveness, increase the level and range of services provided, and yield positive environmental and economic development benefits for the state.