Jurisdiction and Enforcement of US Pollution Control Laws

Agencies can achieve regulatory compliance through different approaches. One method is to enforce regulations through frequent inspections and stringent penalties. Another is to offer incentives to those who are out of compliance, in order to bring them in line with regulations. Several federal pollution-control statutes offer such alternatives to violators. For example, through the CAA, EPA offers emissions trading as an option to those whose emissions levels are above the agency's set limits. By making a deal with a neighboring industry whose emissions are similar in type, one plant can maintain its higher emissions levels in exchange for an agreement by the other to keep its emissions below the limit to a comparative degree. By allowing such agreements, EPA maintains acceptable emissions levels within corridors without drastically affecting the viability of individual industries.

EPA responds to all violations of pollution-control laws in one of four ways, depending on the severity of the violation. In the least extreme cases, EPA issues informal letters that advise violators to correct their behavior. The next level of violation leads to a formal agency response, a legal order that requires violators to come into compliance. For more severe violations, EPA initiates civil lawsuits, demands compliance, and imposes potential financial penalties. Finally, the agency may bring criminal charges against the most flagrant violators, leading to large fines and prison sentences. In all cases involving court actions, the U.S. Department of Justice takes over as attorney for the agency.

Although U.S. pollution control laws are very broad and complex, they are implemented in an organized system that focuses on the most effective strategies for approaching problems and bringing about compliance with the law's stated goals.

Because of the United States' comparatively long history of environmental regulation, it is ahead of many other nations of the world in certain aspects of pollution control. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome. Chemical corporations, pharmaceutical companies, the farm bureau, property-rights advocates, and other interested groups continually lobby Congress to weaken environmental laws. Such activities have had major impacts in some cases, including in 1982, when efforts by opponents of the Noise Control Act led to the effective gutting of that law. Organized lobbying groups also challenge existing laws when circumstances arise under which court cases can be won that will impact the application or effectiveness of a given law. Conversely, environmental and human health groups also lobby Congress in hopes of making pollution control laws even stricter. Such groups also bring a number of lawsuits each year to push for agency enforcement of existing laws. Ultimately, the effects of pollution control laws are usually visible, which suggests that they will stay in place for years to come. see also Carson, Rachel; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); Donora, Pennsylvania; Enforcement; Environmental Crime; Government; Laws and Regulations, International; Legislative Process; National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Politics; Public Policy Decision making; Regulatory Negotiation; Right to Know; Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

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