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Environmental Alert: EPA Enforcement Year in Review 2017

Environmental Alert

On February 8, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Fiscal Year 2017 annual enforcement and compliance results. Notable 2017 enforcement cases from that report include the following:

  • Settlement Agreement with Volkswagen AG – Volkswagen entered into a settlement agreement in connection with its use of illegal software to cheat emissions tests to sell approximately 590,000 diesel vehicles and avoid Clean Air Act compliance. The agreement involved payment of a $2.8 billion criminal fine and $1.45 billion in civil penalties.

  • Complaint Filed Against FCA US LLC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V, V.M Motori S.p.A., and V.M. North American, Inc. – A complaint was filed against automotive manufacturers alleging, among other things, that more than 100,000 light duty diesel vehicles were equipped with software functions that had not been disclosed to regulators during the certification application process.

  • Tyson Poultry, Inc., Guilty Plea – The nation’s largest chicken producer pleaded guilty to two criminal charges for violating the Clean Air Act in connection with discharges from its Monett, Missouri, facility. The terms of the plea agreement included payment of a $2 million criminal fine and two years of probation.

  • Settlement Agreement with Whole Foods Market – Whole Foods Market entered into a settlement with EPA, agreeing to pay a $500,000 civil penalty and to spend $2.75 million to perform a supplemental environmental project to protect children’s health by replacing older fluorescent lighting fixtures that contain polychlorinated biphenyls in public schools and community centers serving children located in low to moderate income areas. Whole Foods Market had voluntarily disclosed to EPA that it may not have consistently made sufficient hazardous waste determinations on discarded consumer products.

  • Settlement Agreement with StarKist Co. and Starkist Samoa Co. – StarKist Co. and its subsidiary Starkist Samoa Co. entered into a settlement agreement requiring the companies to make upgrades to reduce wastewater pollution, improve safety measures, and comply with federal environmental laws at their tuna processing facility in American Samoa. The settlement included payment of a $6.3 million penalty plus providing for emergency response equipment to American Samoa for use in responding to chemical releases. The settlement was designed to help prevent hazardous releases at the StarKist facility, protect workers and the local community, and reduce pollution discharges by more than 13 million pounds each year.

EPA also reported that FY2017 enforcement activities resulted in a commitment of $1,227,000,000 in funds by liable parties to clean up Superfund sites. A commitment of an additional $142,600,000 was obtained from liable parties to reimburse the government for money spent cleaning up Superfund sites.

Further, EPA noted that it had issued 1,220 administrative penalty order complaints, conducted 11,750 inspections/evaluations, referred 110 civil judicial enforcement cases to the Department of Justice (DOJ), and (with DOJ) filed 80 civil judicial environmental enforcement actions in U.S. District Courts across the country.

Last, EPA reported that in FY 2017, it had opened 115 environmental crimes cases, charged 139 defendants with environmental crimes (resulting in 153 years of incarceration), and collected $2,977,000,000 in civil and criminal fines and restitution.

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