Pollution Enforcement

Special Report

Reviving Pollution Enforcement at the EPA

The strength of pollution regulation in the U.S. relies on enforcement, and the agency in charge is falling down on the job.

Pollution Enforcement

Citizens need to know how to engage with their state and federal environmental enforcement agencies to effectively demand responses to pollution. Anti-pollution laws – Clean Water Act (CWA); Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA); Clean Air Act (CAA); Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – mean little unless the responsible agencies fairly implement and diligently enforce them.

The enforcement system is complex, with states handling much and the federal government often “backstopping” the states. This patchwork resulted from how the national laws evolved. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when highly-varying state laws proved inadequate to protect the environment, then new federal regulations and minimum standards were put in place. States were allowed to have more protective standards than those minimum standards if they chose to. To this day, enforcement of many, but not all, parts of the CWA, SDWA, CAA, RCRA and FIFRA, as well as their connected state laws and regulations, is a state function.

The enforcement agencies at both of those levels of government often need prodding and “watchdogging.” Thankfully Congress anticipated that, as shown by the fact that most of the Acts have special “citizen suit” provisions that provide affected people with a direct path to Court to obtain enforcement when the agencies falter

Florida Pollution Enforcement Reports

Since 2004, PEER has examined Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) files to assess pollution enforcement. In a state heavily reliant on its natural beauty for tourism revenue, it has fallen far short of acceptable pollution levels primarily in its waterways and wastewater management.

Despite pledges to strengthen pollution enforcement, Florida state records show declines in virtually all meaningful measures. Notably, violations and significant noncompliance with pollution limits are growing while major enforcement actions are declining. Read the Reports»

Federal Enforcement

Environmental Protection Agency EPA Building

The EPA uses administrative actions, civil actions, and criminal actions to enforce environmental laws that fall under the agency’s purview. Read More»

State Enforcement

Enforcement of certain environmental laws and regulations is delegated to state agencies, though EPA must often approve state-level programs. Read More»

Citizen Enforcement

Citizens can help fill in cracks in federal and state enforcement of environmental laws by filing citizen petitions and lawsuits.​ Read More»

RESOURCES

The EPA Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website contains databases that users can search for facilities around the country and see past compliance records. Beyond just searching ECHO for pollution sources in your area, for example, you also can:

  • Search for EPA criminal and civil enforcement cases, including by individual corporations;
  • See enforcement-related maps;
  • Review trends in compliance and enforcement; and
  • Examine your own State enforcement agencies’ performances.

ECHO also includes “Latest Enforcement News” updates and information on the current Administration’s compliance and enforcement initiatives. The site also has a User Guide.

Other Helpful Sources on Enforcement

A Sheep in the Closet: The Erosion of Enforcement at the EPA , a report by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative

Paying Less to Pollute, a report by the Environmental Integrity Project

EPA enforcement actions hit 10-year low in 2017, NBC News- Feb. 8, 2018

Environmental Council of States (ECOS), information-rich website on cooperative federalism from states’ perspective

POLLUTION ENFORCEMENT NEWS FROM PEER

Letter to Minnesota Public Utilities Commission – Great River Energy Cambridge Plant Permit Alteration – 05-13-2022 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: PEER letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the In the Matter of a Request for a ...

Response Letter to Minnesota Public Utilities Commission – on Liquified Carbon Dioxide Rulemaking – 03-04-2022 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: PEER letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the Matter of a Commission Investigation ...

Illegal Colorado Air Pollution Permits Targeted

First Major Test for State’s New Environmental Justice Action Task Force

Op-Ed | Why KC Becker holds the key to Front Range air quality

Colorado has been badly out of compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for a decade now. ...

Boeing Money Preceded Waiver of Pollution Penalties

Water Board Chair Reaped Boeing Cash Before Woolsey Fire Fines Forgiven

Letter to Minnesota Public Utilities Commission – on Liquified Carbon Dioxide Rulemaking – 01-31-2022 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: PEER letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission regarding whether the Commission should ...

EPA’s Lax Methane Stance Decried

EPA’s 100-Year Standard for Methane Minimizes Climate Change Impact

Pollution Prosecution Plunge Continues under Biden

EPA Criminal Referrals, Prosecutions, and Convictions Not Rebounding

Comment on PFAS Monitoring Plan – to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency – 01-21-2022 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: Comment (via letter) to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Draft PFAS Monitoring Plan Comment TO: ...

Letter to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency – Impaired waters list and PFAS – 01-07-2022 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: Letter to MPCA regarding the impaired waters list, to consider expanding the type and levels of PFAS ...

COMMENTARY | Opaque Decision-Making at The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division

Colorado Air Pollution Control Division has a convenient history of bad record keeping at a time when reporters, ...

Radioactive Buildings Dynamited Near L.A.

State Permits Santa Susana Demolition Without Controls on Dust Plumes

2020 – Florida Enforcement Report

Report on Enforcement Efforts by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – Calendar Year 2020

Florida Pollution Enforcement Fell into COVID Coma

Inspections and Eco-Compliance Tumbled in 2020 among Enforcement Gaps

Federal Agency Rules for Treasure Island Whistleblower

Navy Environmental Lawyer Fired for Advocating Radiation & Toxic Safety

Colorado Air Pollution – Gold and Fossil Fuel Mining

Several mines in Colorado received unlawful air permits that do not comply with air quality standards as a result ...

Colorado Air Pollution – Interstate Expansions

$1.2 billion project started in August 2018, to widen I-70 from 6 lanes to 8 lanes near Commerce City, Colorado.

Colorado Air Pollution – Suncor

The allegations against the CDPHE implicate the air permit renewal for the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City.

Delray Deputy Utility Manager Cashiered

Troubled Florida Water Utility Faces Gauntlet of Public Health Challenges

COMMENTARY | What is Going On with Colorado Air Quality?

Colorado has been undermining its own air pollution experts for years in favor of easing requirements for polluters.