Criminal Enforcement Highlights
Criminal enforcement is EPA’s strongest sanction against polluters. In fiscal year (FY) 2009 EPA’s criminal enforcement program continued emphasizing cases with significant environmental, human health and deterrence impact while balancing its overall case load across all pollution statutes. The criminal enforcement program emphasizes National Enforcement Priorities, Regional Enforcement Priorities, stationary source air cases, "high impact" cases, repeat or chronic civil noncompliance and import–export cases. While the total criminal caseload will fluctuate based on specific characteristics of the cases investigated, as well as by the prosecutorial and sentencing decisions made by the Department of Justice and the federal courts, an emphasis on these priorities will yield greater environmental and public health benefits and deter illegal corporate and individual behavior.
In FY 2009 the program significantly exceeded judicial outcomes for defendants charged, incarceration and fines/restitution over FY 2008 levels.
Environmental Crime Cases Opened
Three hundred and eighty-seven new environmental crime cases were opened in FY 2009, the highest number in the past five years. Almost 1/3 of the new cases opened in FY 2009 were in criminal enforcement priority areas. Thirty–three of the cases were newly identified National Enforcement Priority cases, including 13 cases with repeat civil violators.
A total of 200 defendants (146 individuals and 54 businesses or corporations) were charged with criminal violations in FY 2009, an increase over the 176 defendants who were charged in FY 2008. The percentage of cases with at least one individual defendant charged (as compared to a business or corporation charged) rose in FY 2009 to 86 percent, as opposed to 76 percent in FY 2008. The charging of individuals, where warranted by the evidence, is important, since the possibility of being sentenced to jail for an environmental crime provides significant deterrence.
Fines and Restitution
Criminal defendants were assessed a total of $96 million in fines and restitution in FY 2009, an increase over the $63.5 million assessed in FY 2008. This included a $50 million fine assessed against BP Products North America Inc. (BP), the largest criminal fine ever assessed under the Clean Air Act (CAA), after the company plead guilty to a felony violation of the act. BP was prosecuted for conduct that resulted in the fatal explosion on March 23, 2005 at its Texas City, Texas refinery which killed 15 contract workers and injured over 170 others. This was the first prosecution under a section of the CAA enacted to prevent accidental releases that may result in death or serious injury. The provision was passed by Congress in 1990 in response to the explosion at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India that caused thousands of injuries and deaths.
The total level of incarceration served by individuals in FY 2009 was 76 years, an increase over the 57 years assessed in FY 2008. This included the sentencing phase of the Atlantic States Cast Iron and Pipe Company, Inc., prosecution, the longest environmental crimes trial in U.S. history. Four individuals were sentenced to a total of 140 months incarceration (and the company was fined over $8 million) for their criminal conduct - actions which were tied to worker deaths, injuries and enormous environmental pollution. In addition to the 76 years of aggregate jail time, defendants in these cases were sentenced to an additional 23 years in prison after being convicted and sentenced on charges not directly related to the environmental charges against them, e.g., theft or illegal possession of a weapon. The total level of incarceration in FY 2009 was affected by Supreme Court decisions which made the U.S. federal sentencing guidelines discretionary rather than mandatory for use by federal district court judges. This resulted in a reduction of about 31.5 years of jail time that previously would have been mandatory.