EPA Enforcement Division Releases 2021 Statistics, Highlighting Higher Penalties and Commitment to Environmental Justice

On January 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) released its annual enforcement results for fiscal year 2021. OECA’s report provides some indication of the Biden EPA’s priorities for enforcement. Notably, OECA secured higher civil penalty amounts and financial commitments to injunctive relief in 2021 than in each of the previous four years, which supports the expectation that administrative enforcement actions in key priority areas will continue to increase during the Biden administration.

In particular, OECA emphasized actions taken to support EPA’s current environmental justice priorities outlined by President Joe Biden in his Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government and Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad as well as EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s agencywide directive to “strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution.” For example, OECA reported that it had addressed environmental justice concerns by issuing emergency orders under the Clean Air Act, issuing orders under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and updating the remedial design/remedial action consent decree framework as part of the federal Superfund program.

OECA also highlighted enforcement actions in each of EPA’s six current National Compliance Initiatives, which extend to air, hazardous chemicals, and water. All told, OECA reported that in 2021 it had secured a total of $1.06 billion in administrative and civil penalties and $8.5 billion in injunctive relief.

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