Criminal Enforcement: What is an Environmental Crime?

Criminal Enforcement Program focuses investigative resources on cases that involve negligent, knowing or willful violations of federal environmental law. Generally speaking, knowing violations are those that are deliberate and not the product of accident or mistake. Knowledge of the specific statutes or regulations that prohibit the wrongful conduct is not required. When a violator is aware that the wrongful conduct is prohibited by law, the violation is said to be "willful."

Frequently, the investigations of environmental crimes will uncover other crimes, such as lying to the government, fraud or conspiracy. These crimes could also be prosecuted. Some examples of types of criminal investigations are listed below.

Reporting a Possible Crime

If you suspect that an environmental crime has been committed, you are encouraged to report the matter by Reporting an Environmental Violation.

We encourage you to report a suspected crime, even if you are not sure which law has been violated or which federal or state agency is responsible for investigating such crimes. EPA will direct the matter to the appropriate investigative authority.

Examples of Investigations

This list is neither an exhaustive list of the statues that the Agency administers nor the types of violations that may occur under these statutes referred to.

  • Clean Water Act: A plant manager at a metal finishing company directs employees to bypass the facility's wastewater treatment unit in order to avoid having to purchase the chemicals that are needed to run the wastewater treatment unit. In so doing, the company sends untreated wastewater directly to the sewer system in violation of the permit issued by the municipal sewer authority. The plant manager is guilty of a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act.
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): In order to avoid the cost of paying for proper treatment of its hazardous waste, the owner of a manufacturer of cleaning solvents places several dozen 5-gallon buckets of highly-flammable and caustic waste into its dumpster for disposal at a local, municipal landfill that is not authorized to receive hazardous waste. The owner of the company is guilty of a criminal violation of RCRA.
  • Clean Air Act:The owner of an apartment complex solicits bids to remove 14,000 square feet of old ceiling tiles from the building. Three bidders inspect the building, determine that the tiles contain dangerous asbestos fibers, and bid with understanding that, in doing the removal, they would be required to follow the work practice standards that apply to asbestos removal. The fourth bidder proposes to save the owner money by removing the tiles without following the work practice standards. The owner hires the fourth bidder on this basis and, so, the work is done without following the work practice standards. The owner is guilty of a criminal violation of the Clean Air Act.

In addition to the investigative examples above, investigations may also involve, but are not limited to:

  • Illegal disposal of hazardous waste
  • Export of hazardous waste without the permission of the receiving country
  • Illegal discharge of pollutants to a water of the United States; the removal and disposal of regulated asbestos containing materials in a manner inconsistent with the law and regulations
  • Illegal importation of certain restricted or regulated chemicals into the United States
  • Tampering with a drinking water supply
  • Mail fraud
  • Wire fraud
  • Conspiracy
  • Money laundering relating to environmental criminal activities.

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