Contact Us for a Free Consultation (818) 781-1570

EPA Violations

Common Types of EPA Violations

With ongoing concerns about global warming looming large in the world, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is at the forefront of enforcing federal environmental laws. 

Federal EPA regulations are stringent, aiming to safeguard the natural environment and public health. Additionally, various rules, emissions standards, etc., are often updated in response to environmental concerns. 

Common Types of EPA Violations
The EPA enforces federal laws and there are some common violations that carry steep fines.

Violating these regulations often results in steep fines, but cases of severe violations can even generate federal criminal charges for environmental crimes. The EPA is charged with enforcing environmental regulations to assure compliance.

There are many ways to violate EPA rules and regulations, such as Illegal disposal of hazardous waste, export of hazardous waste without permission, Illegal discharge of pollutants to water, and improper removal and disposal of regulated asbestos-containing materials. 

Environmental regulatory violations can often accumulate, and fines can be harsh. There are some ways to avoid EPA violations and the associated penalties. 

You can train everyone at your company who may have contact with your waste on all the relevant rules, regulations, plans, and best practices, including maintenance staff and management. 

That process can be onerous, require extensive time and effort, and rely on non-waste experts to understand the regulatory environment's finer points.

Another option is to hire an environmental services company to help you deal with the liability of managing and disposing of your waste. Third-party waste management companies can handle document monthly inspections, define each waste stream process, and review waste information profiles for accuracy and keep up to date.

Let's look at the five most common EPA violations that individuals and businesses might inadvertently or deliberately commit.

Improper Hazardous Waste Management

By its very nature, hazardous waste poses a significant threat to the environment and human health. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the proper treatment, storage, and disposal of such waste. Common violations of this law include:

  • Failure to Determine if Waste is Hazardous: Entities sometimes neglect to assess their waste, leading to improper handling.
  • Inadequate Storage Practices: Hazardous waste must be stored in suitable facilities to prevent leaks and contamination. Violations often occur when these facilities are not maintained or are improperly designed.
  • Improper Disposal: Disposing of hazardous waste in non-compliant landfills or facilities can lead to severe environmental damage and substantial fines.

Clean Water Act (CWA) Violations

The CWA aims to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation's waters. While zero pollution of the waterways would be optimal, the CWA at least seeks to mitigate the damage by prohibiting the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters without a permit. To that end, common violations include:

  • Unauthorized Discharge: The discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States without the necessary National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
  • Non-Compliance with Permit Conditions: Even with a permit, failing to meet the specified discharge criteria or reporting requirements constitutes a violation.
  • Stormwater Violations: Improper management of stormwater runoff from industrial facilities, construction sites, and municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) can lead to significant penalties.

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, is a critical piece of legislation in the United States designed to protect marine ecosystems from the harmful impacts of waste disposal or to minimize the effect of ocean dumping on these ecosystems. 

Clean Air Act (CAA) Non-Compliance

The CAA seeks to control air pollution nationally, requiring industries to adhere to standards limiting emissions of hazardous air pollutants. Frequent violations of the CAA include:

  • Exceeding Emission Limits: Operating without permits or exceeding permitted emission levels can have severe consequences.
  • Failure to Install Control Technologies: The CAA mandates using the best available control technology (BACT) or maximum achievable control technology (MACT). Non-installation or improper operation of these technologies is a common violation.
  • Inaccurate Reporting: Misreporting or failing to report emissions data to the EPA can result in criminal charges, highlighting the importance of accurate and timely documentation.

Violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

The EPCRA ensures that communities are adequately informed about environmental chemical hazards. Along these lines, violations often involve:

  • Failure to Report Hazardous Chemical Inventories: Facilities must provide local emergency planners and fire departments with information on hazardous chemicals stored or used on site.
  • Improper Reporting of Toxic Releases: The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) requires annual reporting of specific toxic chemical releases, waste management, and pollution prevention activities. Non-compliance with TRI reporting obligations can lead to significant fines.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Violations

While distinct in their focus, violations of the ESA and NEPA share commonalities in their potential to harm the environment.

  • Harm to Protected Species: The ESA protects species threatened with extinction; any harm or potential harm to these species or their habitats can result in legal action.
  • Failure to Conduct Environmental Assessments (EAs) or Environmental Impact Statements (EISs): NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental effects of their proposed actions. Skipping or inadequately performing these assessments can lead to project delays, legal challenges, and criminal charges.

What are the Defense Strategies for EPA Violations?

An environmental violation is any act by an individual or company against environmental law or regulation in the United States. The acts can be charged as federal or state crimes, depending on the facts and circumstances. 

The Environmental Crime Section (E.C.S.) is the principal prosecuting agency that brings federal criminal cases against individuals and organizations. In many cases, if not most, the EPA will allow violators a window of opportunity to implement corrective measures to comply with the rules. 

However, violators may be subject to fines and, in severe cases, possible criminal charges. In such cases, a federal criminal defense attorney can be beneficial in minimizing the damage. Common defense strategies include, but are not limited to: 

  • Proving Lack of Knowledge or Intent: In some instances, violations may have occurred without the knowledge or intent of the individual or company. Providing evidence of this lack of awareness can be an effective defense.
  • Challenging EPA Standards and Methods: The EPA's regulations and methods for assessing compliance are not infallible. A strong defense team will scrutinize the validity and application of these standards to their client's case, arguing that the defendant believed they were in full compliance with all relevant rules at the time of the alleged violation.
  • Negotiating with the EPA: In cases where violations have occurred, negotiating a settlement with the EPA can result in reduced fines or penalties. This typically also includes constructing a game plan for coming into compliance.

While some may consider crimes against the environment to be nothing to worry about, environmental violations can result in hefty fines that can easily reach millions of dollars and jail or prison time, depending on the crimes charged. 

Further, you could be ordered to pay the costs of specific environmental damage, which is often a significant amount. Any business violating ecological laws could be forced to make costly changes to its operations, which might result in its closure. 

If you are being investigated for state or federal environmental crime, contact our law firm for an initial consultation. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

Related Content:

Contact Us Today

Eisner Gorin LLP is committed to answering your questions about Criminal Defense law issues in Los Angeles, California.

We'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Make A Payment | LawPay