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.