EPA Criminal Enforcement Sputters Back to Life

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, July 13, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028


EPA Criminal Enforcement Sputters Back to Life

FY 23 Uptick After Enforcement Levels Hit Generational Lows Under Biden


Washington, DC —Criminal prosecution of polluters is on the rise in recent months after a more than two-decade slide, according to U.S. Justice Department figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This means that for the first time in several years, agents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are referring more pollution offenses to Justice for prosecution, and more criminal cases are being filed.

During the first seven months of the current FY 2023 fiscal year (October through April) –

    • EPA criminal referrals are on target to rise by more than 43% from the previous year after hitting a 36-year low. These referrals peaked in 1998 when nearly four times as many cases were referred for prosecution as in 2022;
    • Criminal pollution prosecutions filed are on target to rise at a rate 79% above the previous year when such filings reached a 34-year low. By contrast, nearly four times as many such prosecutions commenced in 1998 compared to 2022; and
    • A higher percentage of EPA criminal referrals were accepted for prosecution by Justice (51%) in more than 30 years.

“Accomplishing the Biden agendas for conservation, climate change, and environmental justice will all require a much more robust anti-pollution enforcement effort than EPA has exhibited,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former senior EPA enforcement attorney. “While these latest figures are a hopeful sign, EPA’s criminal enforcement program has become so degraded that it will take years of sustained improvement to turn it around.”

EPA’s enforcement branch, the Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance (OECA), has suffered a steady disinvestment that has left depleted ranks of Criminal Investigation Division agents needed to develop corporate prosecutions. In FY 22, CID had only 161 agents, the same number as the year before and well below the minimum 200-agent quota that Congress set for in the Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990. EPA last hit that target in 2005.

Besides special agents, declining support has led to a drop of 30% in overall enforcement staffing. EPA has announced that it seeks to add approximately 200 positions this fiscal year, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives may stymie those plans.

“Criminal enforcement of pollution laws is an indispensable EPA function,” added Whitehouse, noting that OECA has lacked a confirmed leader since the Biden inauguration. “Without a serious recommitment to pollution enforcement, America will continue to lose the war for clean water, clean air, and lands not contaminated by toxic chemicals.”


See rise in past seven months after EPA criminal cases fell to record low levels and FY 2023 projections  

View stagnation in rebuilding CID agent force 

Revisit the Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990 

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740