EPA Criminal Enforcement Declines With Focus on Big Cases

The Environmental Protection Agency opened 18 percent fewer criminal investigations in fiscal year 2016 than in the previous year, as the agency focused its declining resources on high-profile cases involving BP and Volkswagen.

The two large cases were the culmination of EPA investigations that required large amounts of time and strong focus. And in an era of declining enforcement and overall EPA budgets, the agency showed a continued decline in criminal investigations.

“This enforcement office in the last two years has really focused on those two big cases,” Rich Alonso, a partner at Bracewell LLP and a former enforcement official at the EPA, told Bloomberg BNA.

“We’ve seen very little normal, traditional enforcement that we’ve seen in previous years, and it’s not that they’re not doing their jobs. They are doing their jobs,” Alonso said. “But these huge cases are very time-consuming, and there’s only a certain amount of bandwidth the EPA has.”

The agency obtained $13.7 billion in agreements with companies for injunctive relief, referring to equipment and actions to control pollution. The Volkswagen case, which involves allegations the company used devices in diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests, isn't included in that total because an agreement was reached at the beginning of fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1. The Volkswagen sum will add $14.7 billion in injunctive relief for Clean Air Act violations to next year’s totals.

Deepwater Horizon Settlement

The EPA also listed a settlement with BP Exploration & Production as part of its fiscal year 2016 results. The company agreed to pay $5.5 billion in penalties for water pollution violations stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in a settlement announced Oct. 5, 2015, at the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year.

The EPA in the report said its results showed progress in implementing Next Generation Compliance technologies, which focus on better monitoring and reporting, and “creative solutions in high-impact enforcement cases to reduce pollution, level the playing field for responsible companies and protect public health in communities across the country, including those disproportionately affected by pollution.”

The agency also said its criminal program focused on complex and serious cases in fiscal 2016. The total number of investigations opened was 170, a decline from the 213 opened the previous fiscal year. There were 184 defendants charged in FY 2016, nearly the same as the 185 in fiscal 2015.

The agency said the trends reflected “the greater complexity of cases handled in the criminal program.”

For More Information

The EPA's report, "Enforcement Annual Results for Fiscal Year 2016," is available at https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-annual-results-fiscal-year-2016.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.