Environmental crime is a relatively new concept in both the United States and the international community and thus is still subject to be defined in a manner that shall be agreed upon by all parties. Nevertheless, environmental crimes may generally be defined as violations that are in violation of environmental regulations and thus liable for prosecution in a court of law. It must be noted that within the United States, there are provisions which establishes criminal liability in particular circumstances and most of the provisions are also reflected in the state statutes.
Currently, enforcement of the environmental laws is only applicable in most egregious of incidences whereby the actual and/potential damage to the environment is in excess or in incidences were the violator is a repeat offender (Rolle, 2010). Though criminal enforcement actions are in most instances taken to act as deterrence to future misconduct by the charged individuals, the greatest impact is realized in deterring those individuals who may be contemplating similar offences. This paper shall examine the environmental laws as applied in the United States with specific reference to pollution and wildlife crimes.
Background: Environmental crimes have remained a general characteristic of the industrialized society that we are living in today. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been opposed to the environmental crimes across the world ever since it was formed in the year 1984. The EIA has been seeking greater political support to ensure that there are stronger legislations put in place to address these crimes. However, despite the fact that environmental crimes pose a greater danger to humanity, it has characteristically remained a low priority area when it comes to the international enforcement community.
There is therefore need for a formidable political will from the international community in an effort to tackle the environmental problem with the urgency that it deserves (Banks, et al. , 2009). Environmental crimes have generally been described as illegal activities that results in environmental destruction. Such acts may include “illegal trade in wild life; smuggling of ozone depleting substances (ODS); illicit trade in trade ion hazardous waste; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and illegal logging and the associated trade in stolen timber” (Banks, et al.
, 2009, para 2). Environmental crimes have been perceived as victimless and often bottom on the priority list thus failing to produce the necessary response from the governments and enforcement communities across the world. It must be observed that environmental crimes in essence affect the society as a whole and therefore action needs to be taken as a matter of urgency (Banks, et al. , 2009). Environmental Crime an international problem: Environmental crime has been identified as one of the fast expanding and growing problem facing the world.
The magnitude of this problem can not be overlooked because it has direct repercussions on the economy, environment, and cultural aspects of the society coupled with grave effects on human health, biodiversity and the environment in general. Though there is a difficulty in establishing the actual amount of monetary benefits that may arise from illegal wildlife trade, electronic waste and hazardous chemical disposal, it is believed that huge sums of revenue is generated from these malpractices.
It has to be noted that there is increasing evidence that some environmental crimes perpetrators also indulge in other criminal activities a scenario often referred to as ‘cross-over crime’ (Harris, Marshall, & Cavanaugh, 1992). Such crimes may include activities such as “murder, falsification and forgery of documents, passport fraud, corruption, bribing officials, possession and use of illegal weapons, and other smuggling issues such as drugs, firearms, and human trafficking” (Higgins, 2010, para 2).
Having realized this, INTERPOL was incorporated in the fight against the environmental crimes starting in the early 1990s and its activities in guarding against environmental crimes have been expanding to include cooperation wit various national, international and nongovernmental agencies amongst the member states (Hess & Orthmann, 2009). To track and understand the modus operandi of criminals is highly regarded by the INTERPOL in tackling the environmental crimes.
The police agency works to achieve this objective through the delivery of the state of the art services and tools including its communication system, Red Notice, and the international nominal criminal database (Higgins, 2010). From a criminal point of view, environmental crimes are usually regarded as high profit and yet low risk criminal offence. The low-risk attribute may be due to inadequacy in detection given that there are few if any environmental law enforcement agents, lack of resources and existence of other priority areas (Hess & Orthmann, 2009).
There is also a general weak legal framework put in place to address such crimes in most countries. There are no profiles of an environmental criminal and that those involved in the criminal act that touches on environment include the opportunistic poacher, a middle man engaged in the transportation of materials or wildlife across borders, and a large company which avoids the cost of processing wastes thereby opting to dump the waste materials in the sea.
It has to be noted that environmental related crimes may have detrimental impacts to the country and even to a region in the larger picture even though others continues to reap profits from such crimes (Higgins, 2010). The INTERPOL is determined to address the challenges that are posed by the environmental crimes. The police agency has created the Wildlife Crime and Pollution Crime Working Group to help in encouraging the exchange of information amongst member countries and also engage in the supporting of the local law enforcement operations.
In the event an investigation is started at the domestic level in one country, and then expanding beyond the borders to include other nations, it may present a complex scenario where the investigator might find it difficult coming up with a comprehensive report. In this regard, INTERPOL steps in since it acts as a single agency in an international investigation (Higgins, 2010). There are various environmental crimes which are varied in terms of immediacy and scope.
Environmental crimes include wildlife crimes, pollution crimes, “climate change crimes and corruption; ocean related crimes including illegal; unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal logging; bio-security and natural resource crime such as water theft or protected area interference” (Higgins, 2010, para 3). However, the wildlife and pollution crimes are the most eminent. Pollution Crimes: Pollution crimes have described as violation of either national or international environmental legislations which encompasses the handling, trading, transporting and disposal of hazardous waste materials.
In the United States, the there were no environmental laws until during the second half of the twentieth century. During this time, there were several Acts that were created including the Clean Water Act of 1977; Clean Air Act of 1970; Ocean Dumping Act of 1972; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976; and many more which were passed by the Congress to enhance both human and environmental health (Harris, Marshall, & Cavanaugh, 1992). Such Acts ensured that individuals and companies would not be able to dump hazardous wastes in an illegal manner, export such wastes to unsuspecting nations or engage in water pollution.
However, many individuals were still found to be disobeying the established law since the costs of ensuring clean operations were relatively higher than punitive measures against pollution (Morse, 2010). For instance, a plant manager at a metal finishing company directed the workers to bypass the waste water from the plant treatment unit so as to avoid the costs of buying chemicals necessary for the treatment of the wastewater. The result of this activity is that the untreated wastewater is released into the sewer system which is in violation of the permit that was given by the municipal sewer authority.
The manager of the plant is also acting in violation of the Clean Water Act. Another example is the case that happened in Woburn, Massachusetts where a tannery and a factory used to dump hazardous chemicals in the ground which later sipped to contaminate the drinking water. Eight children were affected as they were diagnosed to have conducted leukemia. These companies had acted in violation of Resource Conservation Act (Morse, 2010). Wildlife Crimes: Wildlife crime is described as “taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s wild flora and fauna in contravention of national and international laws” (INTERPOL, 2009, para 1).
In this category of crimes, direct victims compose of plants or animals that are being exploited as opposed to individuals or groups of people. Due to this, people do not become a ware of the criminal offenses and only are made aware of such crimes when the cumulative impacts have left the species in danger of extinction. The impacts of the wildlife crimes are far reaching as depicted in the statistics and reports of a watchdog organization known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
According to CITES, more than 5000 animal species and 28000 plant species are on t5he brink of extinction. In their 2004 report, it was established that close to 5000 elephants are killed annually with the African range states (INTERPOL, 2009). There are various wildlife crimes that happen each day which include “extracting badgers from their setts and making them fight against terriers for money, stealing bird eggs, poisoning birds of prey, killing bats, trapping and snaring animals, illegal fox hunting, hare coursing, poaching or destruction of animal habitats” (Marjoram, 2009, para 3).
Wildlife crimes are on the rise and they generally involves illegitimate trade in products of and the endangered wildlife species. Some countries have recorded massive increases in wildlife crimes with rural areas said to be the main domain in which such crimes occur (Owen, 2009). Legislations and Penalties for Environmental Crimes: There are various legislations that have been enacted in the United States to address the environmental related crimes. Environmental crimes may be perpetrated at any level which includes violations at the international, federal, or state levels in regard to established laws.
Prosecutors are eligible to bring charges against individuals and/or groups at any of these levels. For international cases, the prosecutors argue a case based on the infringement on the federal law as provided for in the treaty provisions signed by the United States. The local and federal prosecutions are guided by the environmental laws and regulations as established in the constitution or the statutes (Rolle, 2010). There are three main statutes governing the environmental crimes in the United States. These include the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Violation of these Acts has a corresponding penalty well instituted in the legislations. Violations in the CAA may attract a fine of between $250-500 thousand dollars per day to $1 million per day in the subcategory. The jail term for offenders in regard to this Act requires offenders to face a jail term of up to 5 years in prison and up to 15 years in the subcategory. Violations of the CWA attract a fine of between $25-250 thousands per day and a jail term of up to 1 year and/or 15 years for the sub-category. Lastly, violations of the RCRA attract a fine of between $50 thousand and $250 thousands for the sub-category.
The jail term for RCRA violation is up to five years incarceration and 15 years for the sub-category (Sullivan, 2001). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been given the responsibility to coordinate the necessary environmental protection activities at all levels. Though the EPA has the mandate to investigate the environmental crimes, it has not been granted the prosecution powers by the Congress. Instead, it is mandated to issue a recommendation to the U. S. Department of Justice only after satisfying that the violation of the environmental legislation is potentially criminal (Clifford, 1998).
Conclusion: Environmental crimes pose the new challenge facing humanity. This is a new jurisdiction that has emerged as an area of concern given the massive impacts that such crimes have on the human race. There is need for concerted efforts from all leaders across the world to be able to address the challenges that are associated with environmental crimes. The international community therefore has to come together in the realization that environmental crimes knows no boundary and that there cumulative impacts are also going to affect the whole world.
Reference: Banks, D. , et al. (2009). Environmental Crime: A threat to our future. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. unodc. org/documents/NGO/EIA_Ecocrime_report_0908_final_draft_low. pdf Clifford, M. , (1998). Environmental Crime: Enforcement, Policy, and Social Responsibility. New York: Aspen Harris, C. , Marshall, R. C. & Cavanaugh, P. O. , (1992) Environmental Crimes-Volume 2. West Pub Co. ; ISBN 0071723668, 9780071723664 Hess, K. M. & Orthmann, C. H. , (2009). Criminal Investigation. Cengage Learning; ISBN 1435469933, 9781435469938 Higgins, D.
, (2010). An international response to a crime without borders. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. freedomfromfearmagazine. org/index. php? option=com_content&view=article&id=232:an-international-response-to-a-crime-without-borders&catid=49:issue-6&Itemid=161 INTERPOL, (2009). Wildlife crime. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. interpol. int/Public/EnvironmentalCrime/Wildlife/Default. asp Marjoram, T. , (2009). Wildlife crimes are not acceptable. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. global-aware. org/? p=113 Morse, S. , (2010).
Environmental crime explained. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. helium. com/items/1629792-environmental-crime. Owen, J. , (2009). Wildlife crime: Britain’s killing fields. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. independent. co. uk/environment/nature/wildlife-crime-britains-killing-fields-1812915. html. Rolle, M. E. (2010). Pollution Issues. Retrieved on 27th July 2010 from; http://www. pollutionissues. com/Ec-Fi/Environmental-Crime. html. Sullivan, T. F. P. , ed. (2001). Environmental Law Handbook, 16th edition. Washington, DC: Government Institutes.