Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

EPA issues Strategic Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, May 14, 2024

watersnewOn April 17, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum announcing its Strategic Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy (“the Policy”). The Policy provides direction to EPA’s civil and criminal enforcement staffs, seeking to ensure that the two sometimes-disjoint groups coordinate training, procedures, and enforcement choices. The remainder of this note summarizes this new Policy.

What is EPA’s approach to enforcement?

The Policy emphasizes that EPA has criminal, civil, or administrative enforcement authority, and needs to choose reasonably which to apply in each situation. “Criminal enforcement should be reserved for the most egregious violations. Civil enforcement provides a powerful tool to seek justice for communities, including significant monetary penalties and court-ordered injunctive relief. Administrative enforcement enables EPA to respond rapidly to penalize violators and ensure compliance in cases that do not warrant judicial relief.” Because the agency’s organization separates potential enforcement across medium-based offices (particularly for administrative enforcement) and civil and criminal enforcement groups, coordination and consistency among these disparate units are necessary to meet the Policy’s goals. The Policy identifies four major sets of activities, as follows.

Collaboration Throughout the Strategic Planning Process

The Policy requires EPA’s civil and criminal enforcement programs to collaborate to develop and implement its national and regional enforcement priorities. These priorities are expressed in existing policy documents, including the agency’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (NECIs) (which I wrote about HERE), PFAS Roadmap (which I wrote about HERE), and Lead Action Plan. The Policy also affirms general requirements that civil and criminal enforcement programs meet early during EPA’s annual regional strategic planning processes, and in strategic planning with the US Department of Justice (DOJ, which provides attorneys to conduct criminal enforcement).

Regular Consultation Throughout the Enforcement Process

The Policy requires civil and criminal enforcement managers to meet regularly to ensure successful implementation of the national and regional priorities established through strategic planning, and to conduct initial case screening and coordinate regarding ongoing enforcement matters that include both civil and criminal considerations. Practical coordination includes discussion of new cases, status updates for specific ongoing matters, and venues for discussion of national and regional enforcement priorities. Discussions should also consider other relevant topics, including community engagement, training needs, performance analytics and accomplishments, and trends in internal activities and external factors. The Policy includes an Appendix A, listing “Factors to Consider for Cicil-Criminal Enforcement Screening and Engagement."

Improved Case Management Through Enhanced Tracking and Information Sharing

EPA is developing a national case tracking system, in which non-criminally sensitive information will be entered in a secure system that agency enforcement personnel can access to ensure complete and consistent data management and tracking. This should include access to comparable information about other cases involving a particular enforcement target and others involved in similar activities, which will support consistent approaches to enforcement.

Training to Strengthen the Partnership between Criminal and Civil Enforcement Programs

The Policy states that enforcement personnel will be trained in its provisions and implementation, and more generally to “address circumstances that warrant criminal versus civil responses; ensure proficiency in managing parallel proceedings, including training on criminal discovery rules; and promote heightened awareness about maintaining grand jury secrecy and the limitations on access to grand jury material.”

What happens now?

The new Policy became effective immediately, as a restatement and enhancement of the agency’s enforcement policies. Complete implementation will presumably take time as managers assimilate these responsibilities, and as training, procedures and information management systems are developed fully. Readers should note that the practical duration of this Policy depends on whether President Biden or ex-President Trump wins the November election.

Self-assessment checklist?

Are any of the organization’s activities subject to compliance requirements administered by EPA – and to enforcement for non-complianc?

If so, does the organization ensure its compliance with applicable requirements (which would obviate enforcement for noncompliance)?

Where can I go for more information?

  • EPA

 - Enforcement web portal 

 - Strategic Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy (4/17/24) 

 - FY 2024 – 2027 National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (8/17/23) 

About the Author

jon_f_elliottJon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:


Tags: EPA, Environmental Policy, environmental law, Civil-Criminal Enforcement Policy