EPA enforcement nets $3.6 billion in penalties for 1999
The US EPA has announced that 1999 was a record year for environmental enforcement actions and penalties.
The most significant increase was an 80 percent rise over 1998 figures in the cost of penalties paid by polluting companies for environmental cleanup operations, pollution control equipment and improved monitoring.
The EPA referred 403 civil cases to the US Department of Justice in 1999, down slightly from the 411 referrals the previous year. These resulted in a record $3.6 billion in enforcement settlements, made up of $3.4 billion in actions to correct violations and cleanup Superfund sites plus $236.8 million in additional required environmental improvements.
The EPA figures also show that:
- civil penalties rose by 60 percent to $166.7 million
- there were 3,935 civil judicial and administrative actions – the highest in the last three years
- criminal defendants were sentenced to a record 208 years of prison time for committing environmental crimes
Last year also saw the settlement of a number of important court actions. The largest Clean Air Act case in history ended with seven diesel engine manufacturers being ordered to pay an $83 million penalty and spend over $800 million to produce cleaner engines (see related story). The companies were accused by the US Government of causing millions of tons of excess emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX). The EPA says that this case paves the way for the reduction of future NOX emissions by more than 75 million tons over the next 25 years.
The Agency also settled the largest ever civil complaint under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act against the FMC Corporation. The settlement included an $11.8 million civil penalty and an estimated $170 million to close ponds containing hazardous-waste and reduce emissions of toxic gas.
The 208 years of criminal sentences imposed by the courts in 1999 was approximately 12 years higher than the previous record. Taken together, the combined civil and criminal referrals are the third largest in EPA history and the combined amount of civil and criminal penalties is the second largest in EPA history.
In addition to its formal enforcement activities, 1999 saw the EPA expand its use of incentives to encourage industry compliance with environmental laws. The Agency reported that in 1999 approximately 260 companies disclosed potential violations at over 989 facilities under EPA’s self-disclosure policy.
“These figures show that our enforcement strategy has been enormously successful in targeting the most serious violators for aggressive action to achieve environmental results while at the same time providing real incentives for those who voluntarily disclose violations,” said Steve Herman, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
The EPA says its enforcement actions significantly reduced emissions or discharges of pollutants. Among the reductions were:
- nitrogen oxides: by over 5.8 billion pounds (2.6 million kg)
- asbestos by over 19 million lbs (8.6 million kg)
- sulphur dioxide by over 19 million lbs (8.6 million kg)
- volatile organic compounds by over 6 million lbs (2.7 million kg)
- carbon dioxide by over 4 million lbs (2.8 million kg)
- PCB-contaminated wastes by over 129 million lbs (58.5 million kg)