EPA Releases 2012 Enforcement Results

Under the headline “EPA Enforcement in 2012 Protects Communities from Harmful Pollution,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 17, 2012, released its annual report of enforcement activities for the 2012 fiscal year (FY 2012). According to the press release issued with the report, EPA enforcement resulted in a reduction of 2.2 billion pounds of air, water, and land pollution; a reduction of 4.4 billion pounds of hazardous waste; and $252 million in civil and criminal penalties. Additionally, settlements in EPA enforcement actions required companies to invest more than an estimated $9 billion in actions and equipment. The report is available here.

EPA conducted approximately 20,000 inspections and evaluations in FY 2012. The agency initiated just over 3,000 civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases and resolved about the same number.

Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) was one of the most active EPA regions, accounting for more than 1.7 billion pounds of claimed pollution reductions and initiating more enforcement cases (492) than any other region except Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 Tribal Nations). Of the 1.7 billion pounds of pollution reductions claimed for Region 4, EPA says that 1.4 billion pounds will be reduced as a result of one Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Administrative Order on Consent for cleanup of a site in Birmingham, Alabama.

EPA set a new record in FY 2012 for the amount of civil penalties imposed on companies—$208 million. Companies also agreed to spend more than $44 million in “Supplemental Environmental Projects,” which are environmentally beneficial projects beyond those required by law.

Although it had fewer criminal enforcement agents in 2012 than in 2011, EPA still opened 320 criminal investigations, 44 percent of which resulted in charges filed against one or more defendants. Most criminal cases (70 percent) included individual defendants, and the conviction rate was 95 percent. Criminal defendants were sentenced to a total of 79 years in prison and paid $44 million in fines. EPA has posted a summary of major criminal prosecutions here.

EPA remains focused on environmental justice. The agency claims to be incorporating fenceline monitoring into settlement agreements and requiring that the information be made public. EPA has also developed several on-line public information tools, including an enforcement actions map, separate “state dashboards,” and a Clean Water Act “pollutant loading tool.” These new information sources join the existing Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), which allows users to search for information by facility name, address, environmental media, and more.

Elizabeth B. (Beth) Partlow is a shareholder in the Columbia, South Carolina, office of Ogletree Deakins.