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Environmental Crime - Three Forms Of Enforcement

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There are three forms of environmental law enforcement: administrative, civil, and criminal proceedings. Under administrative enforcement the EPA notifies an offender of a violation and requires the offender halt the activity. If the offender cooperates and a settlement is reached the matter is resolved. If the offender denies a violation has taken place, he or she enters into informal talks with the EPA. Again, if a settlement is reached, the matter ends. If there is no settlement, a formal hearing with a judge is scheduled. The judge listens to all sides and issues a decision. If the offender loses, he or she may appeal the decision by entering the federal court system.

If from the start the EPA either believes the case cannot be settled or the offender is uncooperative, the EPA refers the case to the DOJ. The DOJ looks at five major factors when deciding how to prosecute a case: intent to violate the law; the harm done; the offender's prior environmental record; how much or if the offender will cooperate in the investigation; and media attention the case is or will be receiving.

The DOJ also looks into the possible involvement of organized crime groups. Organized crime, for several decades, had dealt in the illegal disposal of hazardous waste. Proper treatment and disposal of the waste is very expensive. Various organized crime groups with little concern for the environment found dumping waste illegally was far cheaper and simpler than legal disposal.

The DOJ can prosecute environmental crime cases in either civil or criminal proceedings. The goal of a civil proceeding is to force the offender to pay for all damages and injuries experienced by the victimized person or group. The purpose is not to send an offender to prison, but to cover the victim's losses. To win a civil case the government must prove that a "preponderance" (majority or 51 percent) of the evidence supports the claim of the victim.

The goal of a criminal proceeding is to punish the offender with fines and imprisonment. To win a criminal conviction, the government must prove the offender is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." Criminal convictions are much more difficult to obtain than civil convictions. The DOJ will often pursue cases in the less demanding civil courts.

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