Major federal environmental and wildlife protection acts

Environmental protection acts

Clean Air Act (CAA)—Prevent the deterioration of air quality Clean Water Act (CWA)—Regulate sources of water pollution

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability (CERCLA or Superfund)—Address problems of abandoned hazardous waste sites Emergency Planning & Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)—Help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—Control pesticide distribution, sale, and use

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—The basic national charter for protection of the environment. It establishes policy, sets goals, and provides means for carrying out the policy. Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA)—Prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills

Pollution Prevention Act (PPA)—Reduce the amount of pollution produced via recycling, source reduction, and sustainable agriculture Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)—Protect human health and the environment from dangers associated with waste management Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)—Protect the quality of drinking water

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—Test, regulate, and screen all chemicals produced in or imported into the U.S. Wildlife protection acts

Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA)—Provide a program for the conservation of bald and golden eagles Endangered Species Act (ESA)—Conserve the various species of fish, wild life, and plants facing extinction Lacey Act—Control the trade of exotic fish, wildlife, and plants Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)—Protect migratory birds during their nesting season source: Adapted from "Major Environmental Laws," in Guide to Environmental Issues, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Washington, D.C., June 26, 1998, (accessed August 4, 2005)

the environment could be considered a crime. Since that time, however, a substantial portion of the American public has begun to recognize the seriousness of environmental offenses, believing that damaging the environment is a serious crime and that corporate officials should be held responsible for offenses committed by their firms. Even though the immediate consequences of an offense may not be obvious or severe, environmental crime is a serious problem and does have victims; the cumulative costs in damage to the environment and the toll to humans in illness, injury, and death can be considerable.

Law enforcement agencies generally believe that successful criminal prosecution—even the threat of it— is the best deterrent to environmental crime. Under the dual sovereignty doctrine, both state and federal governments can independently prosecute environmental crimes without violating the double jeopardy or due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

As attitudes toward environmental crimes have changed, the penalties for such offenses have become harsher. Federal criminal enforcement has grown from a misdemeanor penalty for dumping contaminants into waterways without a permit, to a felony for clandestine (secret) dumping. Several federal laws now include criminal penalties. Companies, their officials, and staff can be prosecuted for knowingly violating any one of a number of crimes. Such crimes include transporting hazardous waste to an unlicensed facility, storing and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit, failing to notify of a hazardous substance release, falsifying documents, dumping into a wetland, or violating air quality standards.

Figure 1.5 shows the numbers of criminal investigations conducted by the EPA Criminal Enforcement

Program for fiscal years 2000-04 and the number of defendants charged with environmental crimes. More than four hundred investigations took place during 2004, and nearly three hundred defendants were charged with crimes that year. Nearly eight hundred people were incarcerated for environmental crimes between 2000 and 2004 and nearly $400 million in fines were paid. Another $545 million was collected in civil penalties. (See Figure 1.6.)

Since the 1970s, environmental laws have become more complicated. The increasing strictness of those laws may have contributed to the growing incidence of environmental violations. First, many businesses have found compliance increasingly expensive, and many are simply avoiding the costs even if it means violating the law. These companies consider the penalties just another "cost of doing business.'' Second, businesses and their legal counsel are becoming increasingly savvy in avoiding prosecution through the use of dummy corporations, intermediaries, and procedural techniques.

Smuggling and black-market sales of banned hazardous substances also resulted from environmental legislation. In 1997 federal officials reported that the sale of contraband Freon (a refrigerant used in air conditioning systems) had become more profitable than the sale of cocaine at that time. Freon is one of the chlorofluorocar-bons (CFCs), a class of chemicals known to cause ozone depletion in the atmosphere. In Mexico, which shares a two-thousand-mile border with the United States, Freon is still legal to manufacture and export, but those activities are banned in the United States. Freon, however, continues to exist in the cooling systems of many older model cars in the United States, which means a demand also exists.

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