EPA finalizes e-documents rule

A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency lays out its policy for accepting electronic documents from state, tribal and local governments, but it stops short of making electronic filing a requirement.

The rule, which will be effective Jan. 11, 2006, is a follow-on from an Aug. 31, 2001, notice of a proposed rulemaking, in which the EPA signaled its intention to move to electronic reporting and recordkeeping for its regulatory programs.

However, in its final rule, the EPA states that e-filing will not be mandatory and that final action on e-recordkeeping will be decided later.

The rule will allow governments to seek EPA approval to accept electronic documents that satisfy the agency's reporting requirements, and sets out the performance standards against which the government's electronic document receiving system will be evaluated prior to EPA approval.

The rule is also intended to ensure the legal dependability of electronic documents submitted under the environmental programs, the EPA said. Among other things, that includes ensuring that individuals will be held as responsible and accountable for the electronic signatures they execute as they are in the case of paper documents with handwritten signatures.

Under the final rule state, tribal and local governments will choose whether to use electronic or paper submissions, the EPA said, though it also noted that comments on the proposed rule indicate that some governments already require electronic reporting for federal environmental programs. Those existing systems will also require EPA approval.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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