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Environmental Enforcement: Industry Should Not be Complacent

April 2002

Citation: ELR 10488

Author: Kevin A. Gaynor & Benjamin S. Lippard

Any suggestion that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) enforcement activity is less than vigorous is incorrect. Instead, EPA is pushing enforcement on all fronts. Its cases are also increasingly innovative. EPA referrals of criminal cases to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) steadily and dramatically increased from 20 in fiscal year (FY) 1982 to 107 in FY 1992 to a record 278 in FY 1997 and declined slightly in FY 2000 to 236. Criminal fines, which in FY 1997 reached a record $ 169.3 million,1 declined in FY 1999 to $ 61.5 million but doubled in FY 2000 to $ 122 million.2 Years assessed for criminal sentences rose from 146 years in FY 2001 to 256 years in FY 2002.3 Federal courts imposed jail time of 146 years in FY 2000. At the close of FY 2000, the total of all criminal fines assessed under the criminal enforcement program neared $ 720 million.4

Overall, EPA brought a record total of 6,027 civil judicial, criminal, and administrative enforcement actions in FY 2000, an increase of nearly 65% from FY 1999. EPA referred 368 civil cases to the DOJ, a slight reduction from FY 1999 and a 30% increase over FY 1996. EPA also issued a record 1,763 administrative complaints, up nearly 8% from FY 1999. Additionally, EPA forced defendants to spend $ 2.6 billion to correct violations and take additional steps to promote environmental protection. Civil penalties dropped slightly in FY 2000 to $ 102.6 million from the record $ 166.7 million in penalties assessed in FY 1999, which included the largest Clean Air Act (CAA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) penalties in EPA's history.5 But violators paid over $ 125 million in civil penalties in FY 2002, with an additional $ 25 million allocated to states in shared penalties.6

Kevin Gaynor heads Vinson & Elkins' Washington, D.C., environmental practice. Ben Lippard is an associate in that practice group.

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