In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has executed several severe enforcement actions in response to violations of their regulations. Companies and worksites that violate environmental regulations are facing larger fines and depending on the severity of their violations, may be shut down altogether.
These more stringent regulations apply across all industries, so whether you work in utilities, agriculture, oil and gas, construction, or transportation, staying compliant with EPA regulations is critical. The EPA recently published the “2017 annual enforcement and compliance results, highlighting site remediation and civil and criminal enforcement results” (EPA 2018). It is important for industry leaders to review these results each year to not only stay up to date on the types of violations that are being discovered, but also to make sure they keep their plants fully compliant. Some of the most common and most expensive violations are highlighted below.
Highlights of the Report
The EPA’s enforcement of and penalties for violations have continued to grow in severity. In the 2017 report they highlight these key areas:
- “An increase in the value of commitments by private parties to clean up sites to more than $1.2 billion.
- An increase in the environmental benefits of EPA Superfund and RCRA Corrective Action enforcement, with commitments to address an estimated 20.5 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and 412 million cubic yards of contaminated water.
- An increase in the total of criminal fines, restitution, and mitigation to $2.98 billion.
- An increase in the years of incarceration resulting from EPA’s criminal enforcement actions to 150 years.
- An increase in the value of actions taken to improve compliance with the law and reduce pollution, to nearly $20 billion.
- $1.6 billion in administrative and civil judicial penalties, higher than any of the previous 10 years other than FY 2016, which included the $5.7 billion BP action."
As you can see, the consequences for violations are measured in billions of dollars and hundreds of years of incarceration.
Civil and Criminal Violations in 2017
EPA violations are split into two main categories, civil and criminal. Civil violations simply mean that a violation has occurred, criminal violations require proof of intent to violate EPA regulations. “As a result of this distinction, most of the environmental crimes that the EPA investigates involve ‘knowing violations’ of the law. These are classified as felonies in all the federal environmental statutes except for the toxic substances and pesticide statutes” (EPA 2018).
2017 had some notable violations, including:
An automotive company agreed to pay both a criminal and a civil fine to settle their Clean Air Act violations. Their fines total over $4 billion.
A commercial poultry production company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act because of discharges from a Missouri facility. They must pay a criminal fine of $2 million and serve 2 years of probation.
A food processing company agreed to a joint settlement between the Department of Justice and the EPA for wastewater pollution from their facility in American Samoa. As a part of their agreement they will pay a $6.5 million penalty and provide emergency response equipment to American Samoa for responding to chemical releases.
Reacting to issues as they occur is not enough. While solving problems quickly is important, implementing EPA measures before a project has even started can prevent those issues from ever arising. One example of this type of proactive planning that should be included in any construction project is the EPA's guidelines for emergency stormwater discharge plans. Though it is impossible to know what the weather will be like during a construction project, the environmental impact when stormwater runs through your worksite and picks up "pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals from that loose soil and transport them to nearby storm sewer systems or directly into rivers, lakes, or coastal waters" (EPA 2018) can be huge. For this reason, before construction starts and before any inclement weather rolls through, it is important to put "the proper stormwater controls in place so that construction can proceed in a way that protects your community’s clean water and the surrounding environment" (EPA 2018)
While keeping up with EPA regulations may seem like an overly tedious and time-consuming task, costly fines and prison time are much worse. It’s important to remember that these regulations do more than just keep plants compliant, they aim to protect your employees and the communities you serve by keeping the environment clean and safe. You don’t have to navigate this ever-changing landscape alone - contact an ORR Safety Expert to learn more about how you can keep your worksite compliant.
EPA (2018) EPA Announces 2017 Annual Environmental Enforcement Results. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-2017-annual-environmental-enforcement-results
EPA (2018) Enforcement Basic Information. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-basic-information
EPA (2018) Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activities. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater-discharges-construction-activities