EPA Initiating Fewer Civil Enforcement Cases, Prioritizing Larger, More Complex Cases

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The Environmental Protection Agency initiated 3,027 civil enforcement cases in fiscal year 2012, continuing a downward trend that reflects the agency's prioritization of large cases, the agency said Dec. 17 while releasing its annual report on enforcement and compliance.

Cynthia Giles, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, told BNA Dec. 17 the agency is initiating fewer smaller cases and instead is prioritizing more complex cases “that are going to make the biggest difference.”

By comparison, the agency initiated 3,283 cases in fiscal 2011. The number of new cases in fiscal year 2010 was 3,436 and the number of cases in fiscal 2009 was 3,779.

Because of the priority on large cases, Giles said, the agency has secured more pollution reductions and larger civil penalties, all while initiating fewer cases.

Record Penalties Secured

The agency secured a record $208 million in civil penalties in fiscal 2012. The results were buoyed by a $57.3 million penalty against Volvo Truck Corp. for violating a 1998 consent decree.

By comparison, the agency assessed $152 million in fiscal 2011 and $106 million in fiscal 2010.

Giles said the penalties are “important in sending a strong deterrence message to prevent violations.”

Enforcement actions also are expected to reduce air, water, and chemical pollution by 2.2 billion pounds in fiscal 2012, up from 1.8 billion pounds in fiscal 2011 and 1.5 billion pounds in fiscal 2010.

A September agreement with an industrial coke operation, Walter Coke Inc., under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, was responsible for a reduction of 1.4 billion pounds of pollution.

$9 Billion in Controls

Industry paid $9 billion for pollution controls in fiscal 2012, down from a record $19 billion the previous year, when EPA entered into a large settlement requiring the Tennessee Valley Authority to retire at least 18 of its 59 coal-fired power plants to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (237 DER A-26, 12/9/11).

Giles said a handful of large cases affect the traditional measures of enforcement outcomes, including dollars spent on pollution controls, and the results vary significantly year to year.

Additional Areas Prioritized

The agency has prioritized some areas that are not reflected in the enforcement results, Giles said.

For example, she said, the agency's work on protecting drinking water is not reflected because the drinking water supply does not have significant pounds of pollution to be reduced.

During the past three years, Giles said, the agency has seen a 60 percent decrease in the number of systems with serious violations, which she called a “huge achievement.”

By Jessica Coomes  

The EPA fiscal year 2012 enforcement and compliance results are available at http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/data/eoy2012/fy2012annualresults-analysistrends.pdf.

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