Environmental Crimes: The EPA’s Authority to Investigate and Enforce Environmental Laws

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Part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) strategic plan involves imposing and enforcing laws that help protect the environment and public health. The EPA therefore, makes sure that environmental policies, procedures amd requirements are met, while those found in violation are charged with either criminal or civil legal actions.

Brief Background of the US EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program concentrates on criminal behaviors found and proven as endangering the environment and the health of the people. Although the program was established in 1982, it wasn’t until 1988 that the members of the agency were given complete law enforcement authority by the US Congress.

Since then, EPA law enforcement agents have been conducting investigations, overseeing forensic analyses, providing legal guidance in prosecutions, and collecting evidence to make sure the laws are properly administered.

The agency also has special agents whose duty is to study the most atrocious violations of environmental laws, likely to threaten human health and environment.

What Exactly is an Environmental Crime?

An environmental crime is when a federal environmental law is violated whether knowingly or negligently. One of the agency’s priorities is to protect those who belong to communities that are unreasonably affected by pollution as a result of environmental injustice.

Concerned citizens and victims may report issues in order to bring about a criminal investigation on the violation that is causing harm to individuals. Usually, such investigations reveal various types of crimes such as conspiracy, lying to the government, and fraud. Other environmental issues on the other hand, are handled and dealt with by State and Local Authorities.

Most Common Examples of Environmental Crimes

The EPA encourages the people to report instead of investigating issues on their own. Below are some :

1. Exporting hazardous wastes without the consent of the jurisdiction;

2. Illegitimate or illegal disposal of hazardous wastes;
Unauthorized dispensing of pollutants on any bodies of water of the United States;

3. Unauthorized removal of materials containing regulated asbestos, particularly if the removal of the materials is carried out in a manner that inconsistent with the prescribed regulations and governing laws;

4. Conspiracy to intentionally commit environmental crime

5. Wire or mail fraud involving acts of environmental crime

6. Money laundering activities linked to environmental crimes;

7. Tampering or contaminating the supply of drinking water, and;

8. Illegal dumping or throwing of hazardous wastes

Guidelines for Determining Acts that Can be Reported for Investigation as a Potential Environmental Crime

To help citizens know which actions are considered as potential environmental crime, the EPA provides some examples of certain circumstances that require investigations

  • Weird and noxious chemical odors;
  • Large amounts of dead fish, birds, or other animals;
  • Containers suspiciously placed in secluded areas;
  •  Presence of slick or oil on bodies of water;
  • Waste containers that show signs of corrosion and leakage;
  • Tank trucks secretly dumping wastes on manholes, bodies of water, or drains, and;
  • Faulty valves or pipes that remain hidden in waste treatment systems.

Examples of Environmental Concerns that must be Reported to State and Local Authorities

  • Rampant litter disposal;
  • Construction activities that do not use protective ground coverings like a crane mat or access mat to protect lawns, soft soil or bare earth.
  • Doing vehicle paint jobs on residential garages;
  • Presence of molds in rental units or residences and;
  • Overflowing sewage in a residence’s yard.