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New EPA Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy Promotes Closer Collaboration

Posted on 5/23/2024 by Lion Technology Inc.

US EPA recently put forth a new national enforcement policy to improve collaboration and information sharing between its civil and criminal enforcement offices. 

In a policy memo to enforcement personnel nationwide in April 2024, EPA’s Federal Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) lays out a new strategy for citing violations of environmental standards and assessing penalties "characterized by joint strategic planning, rigorous case screening, and regular communication." 

For facilities subject to environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, EPCRA, CERCLA/Superfund, or Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), closer collaboration between EPA's civil and criminal enforcement offices means that the agency can be expected to aggressively use all available tools to hold polluters accountable and deter future violations.  

From the memo:

“Civil and criminal enforcement managers should review inspection reports and other information regarding alleged violations to determine the appropriate tools for each matter and revisit those choices as cases progress. Information sharing should be a two-way street to promote optimal enforcement.”

“Strategic Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy.” EPA Memo from David M. Uhlmann. April 17, 2024.

New EPA Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy Promotes Closer Collaboration

Civil vs. Criminal EPA Enforcement

Civil violations of environmental laws or regulations often result from oversights, misunderstandings, and/or a lack of awareness about relevant regulations. EPA is not required to prove any “fault” or “intent” before issuing a citation for a civil penalty. The fact that noncompliance occurred is all it takes for a company to be penalized for violating the regulations.

For an environmental violation to be considered a criminal act, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and US EPA must believe that the person or company involved “knowingly” violated the law/regulations. In other words, the company or person involved was aware that their actions violated the regulations/law before the violation was committed.

The prison sentences and financial cost for persons convicted of criminal violations last year add up to 106 years behind bars and more than $1 billion in penalties, restitution, and forfeited proceeds. According to the agency's annual summary of enforcement results, EPA’s criminal enforcement program achieved a 100% conviction rate of defendants in FY 2023. In the two years previous, that rate was 96% (2021) and 94% (2022). 

While civil environmental enforcement cases may not include the threat of individual prosecution or jail time, the consequences go far beyond “the cost of doing business.” Civil penalties increase to match inflation every year and, depending on the program, can be as high as $100,000+ per day, per violation.

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Tags: environmental compliance, EPA Enforcement, RCRA

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