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Enforcement Trends: What the EPA Numbers Show

EPA civil casesThe number of EPA civil enforcement case initiations and conclusions last year continued a downward trend seen since FY09, as the agency continued to pursue larger and more complex cases, according to newly released data.

The FY13 EPA Enforcement and Compliance Annual Results show that last year the agency initiated 2,418 civil judicial and administrative cases, and concluded 2,489 (see chart).

The EPA conducted nearly 18,000 inspections and evaluations last year, down from roughly 20,000 in FY12, with a tight budget motivating a focus on larger facilities.

In FY13, EPA enforcement actions required companies to reduce pollution by an estimated 1.3 billion pounds per year, down from about 2.2 billion in FY12. The agency says because it addresses the biggest pollution sources first, it expects this figure to decline over time. It also says that it is focusing increasingly on toxic pollution violations, cases which contribute smaller reductions in pounds, but still offer big health benefits.

Other EPA enforcement trends last year include:

  • Administrative and civil judicial penalties collected soared on the back of the $1 billion settlement reached with Transocean over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
  • Without that settlement, the EPA would have collected about $100 million – roughly half the FY12 level, and more in keeping with totals from FY09 and FY10.
  • Similarly, criminal fines, restitution and court-ordered environmental projects skyrocketed to $4.5 billion, nearly all from the Deepwater Horizon case.

EPA enforcement compliance FY13

  • Private party cleanup commitments under Superfund rose to $1.2 billion, well above FY12 levels but far below FY11.
  • Injunctive relief fell slightly to about $7 billion. These totals vary widely from year to year, the EPA said.
  • EPA enforcement actions resulted in more than $22 million in supplemental environmental projects. This figure is also quite variable from year to year.
  • EPA enforcement actions required companies to commit to treat, minimize, or properly dispose of 148 million pounds of hazardous waste – down significantly from the past several years, but this year the agency plans to conclude several cases that will bring the total back up.

The agency has also published an online map showing the location of enforcement actions and cases in chemicals, cleanup, waste, water and air.

Takeaway: EPA enforcement data shows the agency continuing to prioritize fewer, bigger cases.

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