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Friday, January 7, 2011

Federal Pollution Control Laws: How Are They Enforced?

Robert Esworthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

As a result of enforcement actions and settlements for noncompliance with federal pollution control requirements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that, for FY2010, regulated entities committed to invest an estimated $12.1 billion for judicially mandated pollution controls and cleanup, and for implementing mutually agreed upon (supplemental) environmentally beneficial projects. EPA estimates that these efforts achieved commitments to reduce, treat, or eliminate 1.4 billion pounds of pollutants in the environment, primarily from air and water. EPA also assessed more than $110.0 million in civil and criminal fines and restitution during FY2010. Nevertheless, noncompliance with federal pollution control laws remains a continuing concern. The overall effectiveness of the enforcement organizational framework, the balance between state autonomy and federal oversight, and the adequacy of funding are longstanding congressional concerns.

This report provides an overview of the statutory framework, key players, infrastructure, resources, tools, and operations associated with enforcement and compliance of the major pollution control laws and regulations administered by EPA. It also outlines the roles of federal (including regional offices) and state regulators, as well as the regulated community. Understanding the many facets of how all federal pollution control laws are enforced, and the responsible parties involved, can be challenging. Enforcement of the considerable body of these laws involves a complex framework and organizational setting.

The array of enforcement/compliance tools employed to achieve and maintain compliance includes monitoring, investigation, administrative and judicial (civil and criminal) actions and penalties, and compliance assistance and incentive approaches. Most compliance violations are resolved administratively by the states and EPA. EPA concluded 1,830 final administrative penalty orders in FY2010. Civil judicial actions, which may be filed by states or EPA, are the next most frequent enforcement action. EPA may refer civil cases to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), referring 233 civil cases in FY2010. The U.S. Attorney General’s Office and DOJ’s Environmental Crimes Section, or the State Attorneys General, in coordination with EPA criminal investigators and general counsel, may prosecute criminal violations against individuals or entities who knowingly disregard environmental laws or are criminally negligent.

Federal appropriations for environmental enforcement and compliance activities have remained relatively constant in recent fiscal years. Some contend that overall funding for enforcement activities has not kept pace with inflation or with the increasingly complex federal pollution control requirements. Congress appropriated $596.7 million for EPA’s enforcement activities for FY2010, an increase above the $568.9 million enacted for FY2009, and $553.5 million for FY2008. FY2011 began on October 1, 2010. Since the beginning of this fiscal year Congress has been funding EPA and other federal departments and agencies under a series of interim continuing resolutions (CRs). The CRs extended funding at generally FY2010 enacted levels, with some exceptions.

Date of Report: December 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: RL34384
Price: $29.95

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