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Federal Enforcement of Environment Laws, 1997

MONDAY,  NOVEMBER 29, 1999          202/307-0784 

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   Federal prosecutors 
investigated 952 individuals and organizations
for criminal violations of the nation's
environmental laws during 1997, the Justice
Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
announced today.  Fifty-three percent of the
criminal inquiries were for violating wildlife
protection statutes, the other 47 percent
involved environmental polluters.  The
investigations resulted in criminal charges
against 446 defendants.
     Of federal environmental law defendants
whose cases were concluded during 1997, 85
percent were convicted.  Most of those convicted
(91 percent) pleaded guilty.  
     About one-quarter of the individuals
convicted were sentenced to imprisonment, the
average term of which was 21.5 months, with half
sentenced to a year or less.
     The courts imposed fines on 64 percent of
those convicted, averaging $2,710 for wildlife
offenses and $124,035 for violating
environmental protection laws.
     More than 25 percent of the 952 criminal
suspects were businesses or other organizations. 
Because many environmental statutes contain
civil penalties, federal attorneys can dispose
of an environmental matter through civil
litigation, and 11 percent of the criminal
investigations were pursued as civil actions,
the BJS report noted.  
     The federal government filed 207
environmental civil actions during 1997, almost
all of which involved environmental pollution. 
During the same time, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) initiated 3,427
environmental administrative actions.
     Between 1994 and 1997 the number of
defendants charged with criminally violating
environmental laws ranged from a low of 343 in
1994 to a high of 546 in 1995.  
     About 200 civil actions were litigated
annually during this period, resulting in an
average of $2.5 million awarded to the U.S.
government annually in monetary awards or
     Private parties are also authorized to
pursue environmental matters in federal courts,
and such cases increased from 576 in 1994 to 642
in 1997.  State environmental agencies referred
379 environmental matters to state courts in
     Statistics presented in this report are
based on a combination of data provided by the
Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and the
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Information obtained from these two independent
data sources has been reconciled to generate the
most reliable statistics.  Consequently,
statistics presented in the report may not
necessarily comport with those previously 
published by the Executive Office for U.S.
Attorneys or the Administrative Office of the
U.S. Courts.  For a detailed discussion of the
sources of disparity and the methodology used to
reconcile these statistics, please request the
BJS publication "Reconciling Federal Criminal
Case Processing Statistics" (NCJ-171680).
     The special report, "Federal Enforcement
of Environmental Laws, 1997" (NCJ-175686), 
was written by BJS statistician John Scalia. 
Single copies may be obtained from the BJS 
 fax-on-demand system by dialing 301/519-5550,
listening to the complete menu and  selecting 
document number 176.  Or call the BJS
clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax
orders for mail delivery to 410/792-4358.  The
BJS Internet site is:
     Additional criminal justice materials can
be obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
homepage at:
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After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354

Date Published: November 29, 1999