Top Stories – When companies break environmental laws, why aren’t the individuals responsible prosecuted? – AllGov

Tens of thousands of companies have been caught polluting the air, water or soil, but the federal government rarely prosecutes the leaders of these offenders.

The crime report found more than 64,000 facilities in federal databases where there were violations of US environmental laws, but less than 0.5% resulted in prosecutions.

Indeed, the government has always preferred to take administrative or civil action against polluting companies, even if laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act make it possible to indict the leaders criminally when investigations.

“As a result, the vast majority of corporate environmental transgressions – even cases involving the release of large quantities of toxic chemicals – are relegated to civil and administrative enforcement,” The crime report wrote Graham Kates.

Fines seem to be just one cost for some companies. Mining giant Massey Energy has violated environmental laws 4,500 times in six years, the investigation found. Massey was fined $20 million and then bought by Alpha Natural Resources, which continued to violate the law. Alpha has since been found guilty of violations 6,000 times and fined $27.5 million.

A big reason the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Justice avoid criminal prosecution is due to lack of manpower and resources.

EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi said The crime report that the agency has decided to focus on “high impact cases” and that “the reality of budget cuts and staff reductions makes hard choices necessary at all levels”.

Pennsylvania officials were forced to sue a company themselves after the EPA refused to do so, according to Harrisburg Patriot-News. That state’s attorney general has charged XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, with violating Pennsylvania’s clean stream and solid waste laws after dumping about 50,000 gallons of fracking wastewater into a creek near of Hughesville in 2010. The wastewater contained barium, strontium, chlorides and total dissolved solids.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley

To learn more:

Environmental Crime: The Prosecution Gap (by Graham Kates, Crime Report)

AG’s office explains why it criminally charged a Texas natural gas driller when the EPA did not (by John Beauge, Patriot-News)

Environmental Crimes Section (United States Department of Justice)

9 states oppose federal push to gut environmental laws (by Ken Broder, AllGov)