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EPA’s Criminal Prosecution and Punishment of Environmental Crimes

June 2020

Citation: ELR 10452

Author: Joshua Ozymy and Melissa L. Jarrell

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the difficult mission of crafting complex environmental rules and regulations while considering the economic costs of those actions. The Agency must also engage in law enforcement functions to enforce these rules and regulations to ensure compliance, punish appropriately, and deter future offenders. Most of these enforcement actions rely on civil remedies to gain compliance, such as negotiating consent decrees or issuing civil penalties. In cases of willful, chronic, or serious offenses, the Agency can seek criminal penalties. Little academic and legal research goes beyond explaining civil punishments to describing criminal punishment outcomes by EPA, particularly across regional offices. This Comment undertakes content analysis of the EPA Summary of Criminal Prosecutions database of all cases across all 10 regional offices in which EPA sought criminal sanctions against environmental offenders from 1983 to 2019  to provide insight into the Agency’s criminal enforcement efforts over the past 37 years and create a basis for understanding what the Agency does to punish offenders with its criminal enforcement apparatus.

Dr. Joshua Ozymy is Director of the Honors Program and Strategic Initiatives, and Professor of Political Science, at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC). Dr. Melissa L. Jarrell is Dean, University College, and Professor of Criminal Justice at TAMU-CC.

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