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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

What you should know about environmental law violations

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2023 | White Collar Crimes |

White-collar crimes encompass a broad range of illegal activities that are nonviolent in nature. These crimes include any accusation of a violation of environmental law. Environmental law includes all legislation that is designed to regulate the impact of human activities on the environment.

What are common environmental law violations?

Violations can range in severity. It can include littering or using illegal pesticides, as well as dumping hazardous waste into waterways, and fraudulent noncompliance with environmental regulations. In some cases, a business will intentionally commit an infraction against environmental law simply because the fines stipulated for noncompliance are less expensive in the short term than investing in the necessary regulations.

Who enforces environmental law?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an organization that writes regulations based on laws established by congress. The EPA also enforces these regulations to support local state and tribe regulations.

Enforcement can be either civil or criminal. In civil liability cases, the responsible party may not know that they are violating an environmental law. In criminal cases, the responsible party knowingly committed the act with intent.

What are the potential legal consequences of violating environmental laws?

Businesses and corporations usually face stiff consequences for violating environmental laws. These consequences are typically severe enough to mitigate any potential financial gains that would be offset by absorbing the cost of the penalties. A criminal charge of violation of environmental law may include fines, restitution payment, and jail time.

The EPA can also enforce a settlement. A settlement may include the corresponding fine and injunctive relief, which means completing or refraining from an action to prevent additional harm. During the settlement process, a violating party can offer a supplemental environmental project (SEP) that aims to compensate for the violation with a tangible health or environmental benefit that is above and beyond the legal requirements. When a supplemental environmental project is proposed, the EPA will take this offer into account when determining the final settlement agreement.


Environmental law has been established through congressional legislation and the EPA’s regulatory authority to protect the environment from excessive negative impacts of human activity. Violating environmental laws can lead to civil or criminal charges. The consequences of violating environmental law may include significant fines, restitutions, and criminal penalties, including incarceration. The legal consequences of violating environmental law are intended to discourage committing an infraction in the first place.