NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prosecuting "Environmental Crimes"

January 9, 1998

The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on so-called "environmental crimes," but critics say violations of EPA rules shouldn't be treated as criminal offenses. They say the law is so vague and the rules so complex that many of the people prosecuted didn't even know they were committing an offense.

  • In late December, the EPA boasted that it had referred 278 criminal cases to the Justice Department in 1997 -- a new record.
  • Last year, 106 people and 35 firms were convicted of criminal environmental offenses, and fines shot up to $169.3 million -- dwarfing 1995's $23.2 million.
  • Combined jail sentences doubled from 1996 to 1997 -- to a total of almost 200 years.
  • The number of criminal investigators on the agency's payroll has grown from about 60 to 200 over the past seven years.

Criminal violations of the law are especially difficult to define in the case of wetlands, since the word "wetland" does not even appear in the Clean Water Act.

But the Clinton administration and some in Congress want to expand the EPA's power by making even attempted environmental crimes a felony. All that would need to be proved in order to throw the accused in jail is that he meant to commit an environmental crime -- not that he actually did it.

Source: John Berlau, "Crackdown on 'Green' Crimes," Investor's Business Daily, January 21, 1998.


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