Environmental crime

Environmental crime
Litter is an example of environmental crime

Environmental crime can be broadly defined as illegal acts, which directly harm the environment. International bodies such as the G8, Interpol, EU, UN Environment Programme and the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute have recognised the following environmental crimes:

These crimes are liable for prosecution. Interpol facilitates international police cooperation and assists its member countries in the effective enforcement of national and international environmental laws and treaties. Interpol began fighting environmental crime in 1992.[2]


Environmental crime by country

United States

Abandoned or little used areas are common dumping places in America -especially railroads. Over $10 million dollars a year are used to remove illegal dumping from polluting towns and the environment. A small organization, CSXT Police Environment Crimes Unit, has been started to stop railroad dumping specifically. They have prosecuted over 1000 cases, however they lost over $90,000 in the first 90 days of investigating.

Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement was founded in 1982, there has been a steady increase in prosecuted environmental crimes.[3] This includes the prosecution of companies that have illegally dumped or caused oil spills.

In the past, small fines were given to environmental criminals. However, today the results can lead to fines of over $18 million and 21 years in prison.


The effective enforcement of environmental laws is vital to any protection regimes that are designed to protect the environment. In the early days of environmental legislation, violations carried largely insignificant civil fines and penalties. Initial environmental laws and regulations had little or no deterrent effect on corporations, individuals, or governments to comply with environmental laws. Indeed a major source of failure of US environmental protection legislation was the civil character of federal enforcement actions. Their chief sanction was fines, which many corporations took in stride as a cost of doing business. Environmental criminal law covers narrower ground. Its core consists of the criminal provisions of eight federal statutes passed mainly in the 1970s and amended in the last two decades.[4]

In many cases, particularly corporations found it more cost-effective to continue to pollute more than the law allowed and simply pay any associate fines if indeed the corporation was actually found and convicted of violating environmental laws or regulations. Perversely, corporations actually had a disincentive to comply with environmental laws or regulations as compliance generally raised their operational costs which meant that many corporations obeying the environmental laws, whether out of a sense of legal duty or public obligation, were disadvantaged and lost a competitive edge and consequently suffered in the marketplace to competitors who disregarded environmental laws and regulations. As a result of weak environmental legislation and continued adverse public opinion regarding the management of the environment, many governments established various environmental enforcement regimes that dramatically increased the legal powers of environmental investigators. The inclusion of criminal sanctions, significant increases in fines coupled with possible imprisonment of corporate officers changed the face of environmental law enforcement. For example, between 1983 and 1990 the US Department of Justice secured $57,358,404.00 in criminal penalties and obtained sentences of imprisonment for 55% of defendants charged with environmental offences.[5]

Enforcing environmental laws and regulations is an important ingredient in protecting the environment and reducing environmental harm. This is generally achieved by various environmental law enforcement agencies operating at an International, Regional, National, State and Local level. For instance, to some extent environmental law enforcement agencies operate only at an international level whereas others only operate at the local level. Furthermore, environmental law enforcement agencies utilise various enforcement methods to ensure compliance to environmental legislation. In some cases enforcement agencies rely on coercive powers to demand compliance to environmental laws, generally labelled “command and control” strategies, while others rely on conciliatory and educational strategies to persuade individuals, organisations and governments to comply with environmental laws and regulations. Moreover it has increased the need for cooperation between different policing institutions.[5] Environmental law enforcement agencies and police services do not operate in a vacuum; the legislative instruments that political systems implement govern their activities and responsibilities within society. However, ostensibly it is the legislative instruments implemented by governments that determine many of the strategies utilised by police services in protecting the environment. Generally these International, Regional, National and State legislative instruments are designed to ensure industries, individuals, and governments comply with the various environmental obligations embedded in national statutes and laws. There are also international legal instruments and treaties that also affect the way that sovereign states deal with environmental issues .[5]

Environmental criminology

Environmental criminology examines the notions of crimes, offences and injurious behaviours against the environment and starts to examine the role that societies including corporations, governments and communities play in generating environmental harms. Criminology, is now starting to recognise the finite nature of the earth’s resources and how law enforcement agencies and the judiciary measure harm to the environment and attribute sanctions to the offenders (White 2003)[6]

See also


  1. ^ Banks, D., Davies, C., Gosling, J., Newman, J., Rice, M., Wadley, J., Walravens, F. (2008) Environmental Crime. A threat to our future. Environmental Investigation Agency pdf
  2. ^ Interpol (2009) Environmental crime online
  3. ^ EPA Basic Information on criminal enforcement
  4. ^ Environmental Crime: The Criminal Justice System's Role in Protecting the Environment By Yingyi Situ, David Emmons Published by Sage Publications, 1999 ISBN 0761900365, 9780761900368
  5. ^ a b c Tomkins, Kevin. Police, Law Enforcement and the Environment [online]. Current Issues in Criminal Justice; Volume 16, Issue 3; Mar 2005; 294-306
  6. ^ White, R. 2003‘Environmental Issues and the Criminological Imagination’, Theoretical Criminology, 7(4): 483-506.

External links

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