Investigation Case Development and Litigation

At the EPA, and in many U.S. states, enforcement cases typically go through three phases: inspection and information-gathering, administrative case

In the largest Clean Air Act settlement in history, The Virginia Electric Power Co. agreed to spend $1.2 billion between 2003 and 2013 to install new pollution control equipment and upgrade existing controls at eight VEPCO generating plants in Virginia and West Virginia. The company, one of the largest coal-fired electric utilities in the nation, was charged with making major modifications to its facilities without installing required pollution control equipment. The settlement is expected to result in the annual elimination of 237,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Most environmental enforcement results in monetary settlements. But not all. An executive of a New Jersey electroplating company was sentenced to twelve years in prison after he pleaded guilty to abandoning vats of sludge containing cyanide, arsenic, chromium, and other toxic materials. The cleanup at the Meadowlands Plating and Finishing Inc. factory cost the EPA more than half a million dollars.

development, and litigation. The agency initially gathers information about potential environmental violations from corporate records, on-site inspections by EPA personnel, and the specific complaints of citizen informants. The EPA then makes a strategic determination on how to address any violations that it has identified.

Such case-specific decisions take into account a number of factors, including the duration and seriousness of the violation, the violator's past record of compliance or noncompliance, national EPA enforcement policies, the potential deterrence value of the case, i.e., the likelihood that it will set an example for others who might be tempted to violate the law, and the enforcement resources available to the EPA and other governmental authorities. In cases that involve particularly serious violations and/or willfulness or bad faith on the defendant's part, the agency may initiate a criminal investigation, and request that the U.S. Department ofJustice proceed with a criminal prosecution of the violator (i.e., a suit by the government) that may result in the imposition of criminal fines and/or the incarceration of guilty individuals.

In fact, most enforcement cases are resolved on the basis of negotiated settlements well before more costly, time-consuming courtroom proceedings start. In the event that enforcement litigation does go forward without settlement, however, the EPA is generally represented in federal court by attorneys from the Department of Justice. Similarly, most state environmental agencies are represented in state enforcement litigation by lawyers from the office of the state's Attorney General.

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