Environmental Crimes and their Prosecution in the U. S.
Individuals within the territorial borders of the United States are subject to a wide array of local, state and federal laws regarding environmental issues. Generally, the laws are aimed at producing a clean environment for the rest of society and discouraging polluters from discharging harmful matter. The laws are so numerous that that a number of state and federal agencies are dedicated to enforcing these laws.
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency charged with enforcing the litany federal laws that cover several forms of pollution. The laws address air, water, waste, lead, and other sources of environmental contamination. These laws cover everything from laws prohibiting the unlawful venting of ozone-depleting contaminants while servicing refrigeration equipment to setting standards for injection wells and are far too numerous to list in detail.
However, some of these regulations are more well known than others. Among the most famous is the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to set standards for certain pollutants, which the private industry must then meet. The Clean Air Act covers stationary sources, such as commercial businesses, and sets standards for motor vehicles and aircraft. Violations of the Clean Air Act can result in the government enjoining the conduct and finding the producer; one can literally be “shut down” by the EPA.
The Clean Water Act is a major law that addresses water pollution. Among other things, the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of wastewater into navigable waters without a permit. The EPA sets water quality standards and aggressively enforces compliance through a variety of different tests including inspections of dumping sites, biosolids, industrial storm water, and water treatment facilities. Violators may also be fined and the offending conduct may be halted.
Another of the EPA’s more famous duties includes operating the federal Superfund program. Founded by the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, the Superfund program addresses the problem of old and abandoned commercial sites that are heavily contaminated by toxic chemicals. The EPA will test the site’s effect on the air, water and soil quality of the surrounding area and take appropriate action. The EPA can fine the “Potentially Responsible Parties” who are responsible for the contamination and force them to pay for the cleanup, although many of these fines remain unpaid.
In addition to federal laws, most states have their own environmental laws. Some states, like California, have another EPA at the state level dedicated to enforcing the state’s environmental laws. The state agencies are unrelated to the federal branches of the federal EPA, as state agencies are charged with enforcing state environmental laws.
State laws often address many of the same issues as federal law, including air, water and soil pollution. As with federal law, violators may be fined or shut down. The penalties for a specific violation vary widely depending upon state law and the investigating agency. State laws also address localized issues such as recycling and the effect of a particular action on the state’s wildlife.
In addition to the litany of state and federal laws, counties and cities have their own laws pertaining to their local environment. Certain states have air quality boards that cover specific regions of a state that cross multiple counties. The county itself may have ordinances regarding dumping, pollution, or burning certain materials at certain times. Individual cities often have many other regulations including zoning regulations and other local ordinances.
Producers who are not certain whether a particular course of action is lawful should seek advice from an experienced local attorney, whether that be a North Carolina lawyer or one from California. Compliance costs are a significant part of doing business in the United States and environmental compliance is a substantial part of that.
Between federal laws, EPA decisions, state laws, state board decisions, regional environmental boards, county ordinances, and city regulations, each with countless admonitions and requirements, businesses face a slew of regulations regarding the environment at several different levels.
Freelance author and artist Molly Pearce often addresses the issues of the environment and human rights and shares this article to educate individuals on the seriousness and prevalence of environmental crimes. North Carolina lawyer group, Powers McCartan, PLLC, also educates individuals on a variety of federal crimes, including those against our earth, through the information found on their website, articles published on their blog, and through legal advice provided to concerned parties.
Photo credit- http://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth-god/4126689583/
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