In February 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the results of its enforcement efforts for the 2013 fiscal year. The collection of over $5.5 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties in 2013 reflects a record yield for the agency and suggests a year of robust enforcement activity. These strong results, however, are due primarily to three large cases, which together resulted in the vast majority of the EPA’s collections. In reality, 2013 saw an overall decrease in the number of enforcement actions by about 20 percent. This trend is expected to continue. In its four-year plan announced at the end of the year, the EPA indicated that traditional enforcement efforts will be scaled back while more limited resources will focus on violations that have the highest impact on public health.
In the past year, the Deepwater Horizon case continued to be a watershed event for environmental enforcement and corporate penalties. In 2013, BP agreed to pay $4 billion to resolve criminal charges from the 2010 explosion and spill, and Transocean agreed to pay $1 billion to settle its civil case with the United States. Transocean also paid an additional $400 million criminal penalty. The Deepwater Horizon settlements dwarf the criminal resolutions the EPA has reached in prior years, and 2014 could prove to be another profitable year for the agency. The pending civil case against BP alleging violations of the Clean Water Act has the potential to result in over $17 billion in penalties if the amount of oil released is determined to be in line with government estimates and BP is found grossly negligent.