Compliance and Enforcement of Environmental Laws

The United States Environment Protection Agency ensures compliance and enforcement of all environmental laws.  The Environment Protection Agency leads the nation’s environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts.

The Environment Protection Agency implements all environmental laws with the aid of written regulations.  The Clean Water Enforcement Action Plan, and the Chesapeake Bay Compliance and Enforcement Strategy are among the numerous written regulations issued by the Environment Protection Agency.  The Clean Water Enforcement Action Plan describes steps to improve water quality.  The Chesapeake Bay Compliance and Enforcement Strategy addresses violations of federal environmental laws resulting in nutrient and sediment pollution in the Bay.  The Environment Protection Agency has also set up the “National Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priorities Discussion Forum” to solicit ideas from the general public on solutions to environmental issues.

Compliance of Environmental Laws

The Environment Protection Agency ensures that all environmental laws and regulations of the United States are complied with and also recommends cost-effective ways to comply with such regulations.  It checks whether environmental laws/regulations are being obeyed, by conducting on-site visits, and reviewing information.  The Environment Protection Agency encourages government, industry and business facilities to assess their overall compliance with environmental requirements and voluntarily correct and report compliance problems.  The Environment Protection Agency’s incentive programs include the audit policy, environmental management systems, pollution prevention, the small business policy, and the small communities policy.

Enforcement of Environmental Laws

The Environment Protection Agency is also entrusted with the duty of enforcing all environmental laws in the United States.  Civil administrative actions, civil judicial actions and criminal actions are the types of enforcement actions usually taken by the Environment Protection Agency.  As part of its enforcement functions, the Environment Protection Agency is authorized to enter into settlement when there is a dispute.  Individuals or institutions that violate or fail to comply with environmental statutes and regulations are likely to invite sanctions, which may be in the form of civil or criminal penalties, incarceration,superfund penalties, and injunctive relief.

I – Civil Enforcement

Civil administrative actions are enforcement actions taken by the Environment Protection Agency without involving a judicial court process. It usually involves the Environment Protection Agency issuing a notice of violation or with the issuance of an administrative order demanding compliance.  Civil judicial actions on the other hand, are formal lawsuits, filed in court, against persons or entities that have failed to comply with statutory or regulatory requirements or with an administrative order.  These lawsuits are brought to court by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environment Protection Agency and by the concerned state’s Attorneys General.  The Environment Protection Agency’s civil enforcement program aims to protect human health and the environment by taking legal action to bring polluters into compliance with the federal environmental laws.

II – Criminal Enforcement

The Environment Protection Agency can also initiate a criminal action against an entity or person depending on the nature and severity of the violation.  Criminal actions are usually reserved for only the most serious violations, those that are willful, or knowingly committed.  Court conviction can result in the imposition of fines or imprisonment.  The Environment Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program uses stringent sanctions, including jail sentences, to promote deterrence and help ensure compliance in order to protect human health and the environment.

III – Cleanup Enforcement

The Environment Protection Agency’s cleanup enforcement program protects human health and the environment by getting those responsible for a hazardous waste site to either clean up or reimburse the Environment Protection Agency for its cleanup. The Environment Protection Agency uses a number of cleanup authorities independently and in combination to address specific cleanup situations. The following environmental statutes provide the Environment Protection Agency with additional cleanup authorities to address oil spills and other events that may present an imminent and substantial danger to public health:

  1. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) (is the Environment Protection Agency’s most powerful cleanup enforcement mechanism);
  2. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), including the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program;
  3. The Clean Water Act (CWA);
  4. The Oil Pollution Act (OPA);
  5. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); and
  6. The Clean Air Act (CAA)

The Environment Protection Agency’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement is responsible for management and review of national cleanup enforcement programs carried out under CERCLA (Superfund), RCRA, and OPA.

The Environment Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Enforcement is responsible for overseeing cleanup enforcement matters under the CAA, CWA, and SDWA.

The Environment Protection Agency’s Federal Facilities Enforcement Office is responsible for overseeing cleanup enforcement at federal facilities utilizing the numerous authorities mentioned above.


Inside Compliance and Enforcement of Environmental Laws