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Compliance and Enforcement Annual Results 2011 Fiscal Year

Basic Information about the 2011 Enforcement Results

EPA promotes compliance with and enforces our nation’s environmental laws. Every year the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) reports the accomplishments in its civil, criminal, cleanup, federal facility, compliance and environmental justice programs. (See more on enforcement and compliance assurance.)

Annual results provide information about EPA enforcement activities addressing environmental and public health problems for the 2011 fiscal year.

  • Have EPA enforcement actions occured in my community?

To see where EPA enforcement actions have occured in your community, click on our interactive enforcement map and zoom in to your area. Or enter your city or state to zoom in to your area. You can also see EPA's enforcement results on a national scale at "End of Year Data and Trends, 2011 Accomplishments"

  • How does EPA select cases to take for Enforcement?

EPA’s civil, cleanup, and criminal enforcement programs work with the Department of Justice, state, and tribal governments to take legal actions in both federal and state courts that bring polluters into compliance with federal environmental laws. The Agency emphasizes those actions that reduce the most significant risks to human health or the environment, and consults extensively with states and other stakeholders in determining risk-based priorities.

  • Can I compare this year’s information to previous years?

All the charts and graphs in the "End of Year Data and Trends, Analysis and Trends" tab show comparisons over the past five years.

  • Why do results vary from year to year?

The type of cases resolved vary from year to year; therefore the total amounts of pollutant reductions, investments in pollution controls, and penalties vary from year to year as well

  • How often does EPA update enforcement results?

EPA reports enforcement results throughout the year via:

  • What is the difference between Civil and Criminal Enforcement?

Criminal and civil enforcement differ in: legal standards, burden of proof and results.

Legal Standard:

  • Environmental civil liability is strict: it arises simply through the existence of the environmental violation, without regard to what the responsible party knew about the matter.
  • Environmental criminal liability is triggered through the existence of some level of intent.

As a result of this distinction, most of the environmental crimes that EPA investigates involve "knowing violations" of the law, which are classified as felonies in all but two of the federal environmental statutes, TSCA and FIFRA. A "knowing violation" is one in which the defendant is aware of the facts that constitute the violation – an instance in which conscious and informed action brought about the violation, rather than, as would be the case with a civil violation, an accident or mistake. For example, an intentional decision to discharge pollutants into a river without a permit, or to bypass a required air pollution control device could be a "knowing violation," and thus criminal, without regard to the defendant’s knowledge of the law.

Burden of Proof:

To be found civilly liable (note that a party can only be found "guilty" in a criminal case), the standard of proof is based upon "the preponderance of the evidence," which means that the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Effectively, the standard is satisfied if there is greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true. The defendant in a civil suit can either be found liable following a trial or reach a mutually agreed-upon settlement with the government that is called a consent decree. While the defendant is then required to meet all of the terms of the consent decree, he does not have to acknowledge that he violated the law.

Criminal guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is a higher or stricter standard than the civil liability standard. When a criminal defendant pleads guilty or is convicted by a jury, there is no question of legal wrongdoing–he has legally committed the crime.

Results:

The major difference in the result between civil and criminal prosecutions is that an individual can be sentenced to prison for breaking the criminal law. It is the possibility of incarceration that most distinguishes criminal law from civil law and, therefore, criminal law provides the most deterrence.

If a civil defendant is found liable or agrees to a consent decree, the result is usually a monetary fine, injunctive relief (which are the actions required to correct the violation, e.g., install pollution control equipment) or additional actions taken to improve the environment.

If a criminal defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, the result can be a criminal fine (e.g., a monetary fine paid to the U.S. Treasury), and / or restitution (e.g., reimbursing the government for the cost of cleanup or response, paying for the harm caused by the violation such as paying for medical testing for people exposed to asbestos as a result of breaking the law).

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