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Raising the Stakes – EPA Increases Civil Penalties for Environmental Noncompliance

Colleges and universities could see huge increases in civil environmental penalties as a result of a recent update to the maximum civil penalties for federal environmental violations. 

For example, the civil penalties that were originally set at $25,000 under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act have increased to between $44,539 and $93,750.  Because the penalties are per day per violation, a single noncompliance can lead to a demand for a massive civil penalty.  Assuming a particular violation of rules implementing the Clean Air Act is eligible for a penalty of $44,539 under the updated rules and that single violation is a continuing violation that lasts for one month, the penalty demanded could be as high as $1.38 million.

The major federal environmental statutes authorize maximum penalties that can be imposed by the U.S. EPA for each violation for each day the violation continues.  These penalty amounts are occasionally increased but have not kept up with inflation.  Under a recent congressional mandate, EPA has increased its maximum civil penalties substantially for penalty assessments that occur after August 1, 2016 for any violation that occurs after November 1, 2015.  According to EPA’s Federal Register notice, 81 Fed. Reg. 43091 (July 1, 2016), these increases are intended to be an initial adjustment to “catch-up” to inflation, and each January subsequent annual adjustments will be made.

Civil penalties for regulations and statutes enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of the Interior have also increased under separate rulemakings with different effective dates.

© 2020 Beveridge & Diamond PC National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 298


About this Author

Jeanine L.G. Grachuk Environmental Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Boston, MA

Jeanine is a top-rated Massachusetts environmental lawyer with extensive experience in air, water, and waste issues arising within a variety of industrial sectors.

Solving puzzles is what Jeanine enjoys most about environmental law. She likes taking a complicated set of facts hidden in environmental reports and unpacking the information until the key legal issues are revealed.

When providing advice to clients, Jeanine listens for what they need—whether it’s a quick and actionable answer, a trusted counselor, or a gut check—in addition to their legal questions. She also...

Heidi P. Knight Environmental, Health & Safety Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Boston, MA

Heidi counsels companies nationwide on federal and state environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance, auditing, and due diligence. 

Heidi has significant experience advising clients across a range of industry sectors on federal and state EHS regulations. She applies her diverse expertise in EHS regulations to help companies comply with requirements in a practical manner, mindful of the companies’ objectives and costs.

EHS Audits, Risk and Compliance Program Assessments

Heidi is a leader of the firm’s EHS Audits, Risk and Compliance Program Assessments practice. She advises a diverse range of companies with planning and conducting comprehensive and targeted compliance audits and managing related federal and state disclosures. She also advises companies on the development and implementation of management systems for environmental compliance.

Heidi was the Compliance Assurance Manager for a manufacturing company for several years. She managed their nationwide EHS audit program, including coordinating facilities and third-party auditors, advising on legal compliance questions, and advising on corrective actions necessary to improve operations, prevent a recurrence, and minimize the risk of potential enforcement actions or other liabilities. 

Heidi also counsels clients on the environmental aspects of acquiring industrial facilities, including identifying and evaluating actual and potential environmental liabilities and identifying permit transfer requirements. 

Occupational Safety and Health

Heidi regularly advises companies on compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and its state equivalents, including compliance with a broad range of health and safety regulations and consensus standards. She also advises clients on preparing for and responding to OSHA investigations and resolving OSHA citations.

Enforcement Defense

Heidi defends companies in federal and state environmental enforcement actions. Among her cases, Heidi and her colleagues successfully defended a manufacturing plant in a Clean Air Act enforcement action resulting in the entry of a consent decree and denial of intervention and defended an administrative action challenging that plant’s air permit.

Professional Involvement

Before joining Beveridge & Diamond, Heidi interned with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, and the Maryland Office of the Attorney General at the State Highway Administration. Earlier in her career, Heidi worked for an environmental consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Heidi is a frequent speaker on auditing and EHS issues. She is also an appointed member of the Northborough Cultural Council in Central Massachusetts, which works to promote the arts and help develop cultural and science programs throughout the Northborough community. She resides in a historic home in Central Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.