St. Mary's Law Journal


Most transgressions of environmental law in the United States are remedied with civil or administrative tools. When crimes involve significant harm or culpable conduct, criminal enforcement tools may be applied. With the importance of environmental criminal enforcement for punishing offenders and deterring future offenses, we still have little empirical understanding of this phenomenon in Texas. We use content analysis of 2,588 federal environmental criminal prosecutions that result from EPA criminal investigations from 1983 to 2019 and select all prosecutions occurring in Texas. Our approach allows us to explore prosecution patterns over time, examine charging and sentencing trends, and draw out the broader themes of environmental crimes prosecuted in the state. Our findings show that across 122 adjudicated cases, prosecutors obtained over $371 million in monetary penalties, roughly 483 years of probation, and 125 years of incarceration at sentencing. We find that hazardous waste crimes comprise 29% of prosecutions; water pollution crimes comprise 24% of prosecutions; air pollution crimes comprise 22% of prosecutions; and state-level crimes comprise 19% of prosecutions. This Article concludes with suggestions for bolstering the criminal enforcement apparatus through greater resources, media salience, and community policing.

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St. Mary's University School of Law


Heather C. Montoya

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