California Environmental, Public Health Laws Inconsistently Enforced, New Report Finds

For Immediate Release

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Craig Noble at 415-875-6100 (office) or 415-601-8235 (mobile)

California Environmental, Public Health Laws Inconsistently Enforced, New Report Finds

Reforms needed to protect public from air and water pollution and other violations, says NRDC

SAN FRANCISCO - Californians may not be able to rely on law enforcement for
protection from pollution, health, and safety violations, according to
a new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC). The report found that the state's leadership role in developing
environment and public health protections may be undermined by a
decentralized law enforcement structure, apparent violation "hotspots,"
and uneven oversight by some enforcement authorities.

as speeding drivers are not deterred by a speed limit that police do
not enforce, some polluters will ignore environmental limits that can
be violated with impunity," said Michael Wall, NRDC senior attorney and
lead author of the report. "All Californians have a right to expect
that the health, safety, and environmental laws designed to protect
them will be obeyed and enforced, no matter where they live and no
matter which agency is charged with enforcing them."

The report, "An Uneven Shield: The Record of Enforcement and Violations Under California's Environmental, Health, and Workplace Safety Laws," assessed
multi-year data on known violations and law enforcement responses
within six California regulatory areas: water pollution, hazardous
waste management, drinking water, air pollution, agricultural pesticide
use, and workplace safety and health. The report found that
decentralized authority, major data gaps and poor recordkeeping by some
enforcement authorities made it difficult for either policymakers or
the public to determine the rate at which violations were occurring or
the extent of enforcement responses.

However, during the period
analyzed, reported violation rates and enforcement activity varied
dramatically by program, region, and enforcement authority. 

some programs, known violators frequently got off without a penalty. In
2004, for example, there were 3,799 cases of facilities violating the
state's water pollution laws, yet there was no enforcement reported for
nearly a quarter of these facilities. In the same year, 2,165
inspections identified violations of agricultural pesticide use laws,
yet more than half of these violations were not penalized or subject to
other formal enforcement action. The report also found enforcement to
vary widely between geographic regions: in 2005, enforcement action was
taken against nearly all wastewater violations in the Colorado River
Basin Region, while only about 30 percent of wastewater violations in
the Los Angeles Region were enforced. 

who do not comply with environmental, health and workplace safety
standards are putting all Californians and our environment at risk.
They must be held accountable for breaking the law," said Wall. 

concluded that broad reforms will be required to ensure the promise of
our environmental, health and safety laws. Gov. Schwarzenegger has
acknowledged that environmental protection requires strict law
enforcement, and Cal/EPA has already launched an enforcement reform
effort; the report noted, however, that Cal/EPA's jurisdiction is
limited and its power constrained by existing laws and resources. 

The NRDC report recommended the following:

  • Adequate funding of enforcement is essential at all levels of government;
  • Allow the people most directly harmed by pollution to enforce the law if regulators fail to act;
  • Require
    enforcement authorities to report complete, accurate and timely data on
    violations so that hotspots can be identified and corrected;
  • Remove institutional barriers to timely and effective enforcement;
  • Increase penalty assessments to deter illegal conduct; and
  • Set clear enforcement standards and measure all enforcement authorities' results.

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