Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been bringing fewer criminal prosecutions against U.S. corporations, and their officers, for their failure to comply with environmental laws and regulations, the penalties imposed in these cases have become more severe.  Since 2010, the amount of prison time imposed on businesses and executives who violated environmental laws has nearly doubled, even though the number of violators charged has steadily declined.  In fact, there were more than 100 fewer charges filed by the EPA in 2014, yet there was a total of 83 more years of prison time sentenced to those companies and individuals convicted.  Moreover, the agency required violators to pay almost $10 billion for actions, civil and criminal penalties, and cleanup of Superfund sites.  These convictions resulted in a reduction of nearly five million pounds of air and water pollution and almost 900 million cubic yards of aquifer contamination.

According to EPA officials, the agency’s focus on charging and prosecuting large corporations that violate its laws and regulations has a big impact on enforcement and accountability of environmental law across the nation.  Large corporations that are prosecuted and sentenced with sizeable fines and stiff prison sentences help the EPA get the message out that non-compliance with environmental laws has serious consequences.  EPA has broad discretion to treat environmental compliance problems as criminal matters, rather than merely imposing fines and penalties.  It also has wide latitude to prosecute not only low-level employees responsible for day-to day plant operations, but also management-level employees supervising such activities.  Because such prosecutions may be brought for negligent violations of the law, as well as intentional violations, it is important for business owners to realize that daily operational problems can lead to criminal prosecution if a business owner chooses to ignore or conceal a compliance issue, rather than finding a solution to remediate the problem.

No one understands this more than the Tonawanda Coke Company, which was recently charged almost $25 million in penalties and community service fines for violation of the EPA’s air pollution and environmental laws.  The company’s environmental control manager was also sentenced to one year in prison, 100 hours of community service, and fined $20,000, for violating the Clean Air Act.  During the federal trial, it was determined that the manager ordered another employee to conceal the fact that an unidentified pressure release valve was emitting benzene into the air.  The company was also charged for not having federally mandated pollution control technology in place at one of its towers.

Other high profile environmental criminal cases in 2014 include an Ohio waste disposal company owner who was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $25,000 for illegally dumping fracking waste into the Mahoning River.  The owner of a recycling business found himself in even more trouble when he was convicted for mishandling used oil containing PCBs leading to a massive contamination. The owner was fined $21 million in fines and cleanup costs.

New Jersey Environmental Law Firm of Michelman & Bricker, P.C. Provide Business Owners with Extensive Knowledge of Environmental Laws

Compliance with environmental laws is more important than ever, and having a reputable environmental law firm to help you with legal issues pertaining to environmental law is essential.  New Jersey environmental lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. bring over 30 years of knowledge and experience to its clients in all areas of environmental law.  Conveniently located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout both states.  Call the New Jersey environmental law firm of Michelman & Bricker, P.C. at 215-557-9440 or complete our online contact form to schedule a consultation today.