U.S. EPA Releases Annual Enforcement Statistics

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently released its annual environmental enforcement report.  In its report, which covers prosecutions for the 2016-2017 fiscal year (ending September 30th 2017), the U.S. EPA states that nearly $5 billion (U.S.) had been levied out in criminal fines and civil penalties.  It also stated that enforcement actions have also led to the commitment by companies to clean-up contaminated sites across the U.S.

In contrast, Canada does not issue an annual enforcement report.  However, the total sum of announced penalties by the Canadian federal government totaled approximately $15 million in 2017.

The bulk of the monetary fines levied in the U.S. was from the settlement with Volkswagen.  The company agreed to pay $1.45 billion (U.S.) in civil penalties because of its use of illegal software to foil emissions testing.

The U.S. EPA was alerted by an environmental activist group, The International Council on Clean Transportation in 2013 that on-road emission tests of Volkswagen vehicles were dramatically different than off-road test in garages.  The finding led U.S. EPA officials to discover that Volkswagen had installed software in vehicles to shut off the emissions control system during driving and only turned it on during off-road testing.

A worker tests a red 2016 Volkswagen AG Golf TDI emissions certification vehicle on Sept. 22, 2015. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

The $1.45 billion fine levied against Volkswagen still dwarfs the $6 billion penalty paid by BP for the 2010 oil spill from Horizon One oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

In contrast, the largest fine ever meted out in Canada was $3.5 million (Cdn.) to Prairie Mines & Royalty ULC in 2017 wastewater spill at a mine.

Included in the report, was the note of the legal commitment made by companies clean-up sites they had contaminated.  The estimated cost of that clean-ups is $1.2 billion (U.S.).

With respect to jail time for environmental criminals, the U.S. EPA prosecuted individuals and U.S. courts meted out a total of 150 years in jail for persons found guilty of environmental offences.  In contrast, the total jail time Canadian courts meted out for environmental offenders was less than one year.

Critics of the U.S. EPA note that the high level of enforcement actions may not continue.  Critics point to an analysis by the New York Times in late 2017 that concluded that the U.S. EPA under its latest head, Scott Pruitt, has initiated about one-third fewer civil enforcement cases than the number under the previous U.S. EPA director.

PF Résolu Canada Inc. is fined $100,000 for Environmental Offence

PF Résolu Canada Inc., a North American company in the forest products industry, was recently fined $100,000 after pleading guilty to violating subsection 36(3) of the Canadian Fisheries Act.

The investigation, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, revealed that PF Résolu Canada Inc. had committed a violation to the Act, namely the deposit of a deleterious substance in waters frequented by fish.  The amount of the fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund.

The deposit of a deleterious substance was into Comeau Creek situated in North Shore of Baie Comeau.  PF Résolu Canada Inc.’s Baie Comeau newsprint mill is located on the creek.

PF Résolu Canada Inc., also known as Resolute Forest Products (RFP), is a global leader in the forest products industry with a diverse range of products, including market pulp, tissue, wood products, newsprint and specialty papers, which are marketed in over 70 countries.

The company owns or operates some 40 manufacturing facilities, as well as power generation assets, in the United States and Canada.

Resolute has third-party certified 100% of its managed woodlands to internationally recognized sustainable forest management standards.  Resolute has received regional, North American and global recognition for its leadership in corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, as well as for its business practices.

On the environmental management section of the company website, RFP states that in 2016, t 29 environmental incidents were recorded across the company.  The company states that it will continue to work toward a long-term goal of zero incidents. The 2017 target the company set for itself is 38 incidents or less.

In its financial statements, the company is required to record accidental releases of hazardous substances significant enough to risk damage to human and environmental health, or that have potential liability and reputational consequences. Between 2012 and 2016, Resolute recorded no such incidents. The company is also required to disclose in our published financial statements any fines of material significance for non-compliance with environmental laws and regulations, none of which were reported between 2012 and 2016.

The Baie-Comeau facility produces newsprint at a capacity of 319,000 tonnes per year.  There are 216 employees at the facility.