Impact of Environmental Criminal Enforcement on Disaster Response

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Assessing whether major industrial disasters in the United States incidents led to any civil and criminal responses by federal and state authorities under relevant environmental laws.

To date, no one has fully investigated whether industrial disasters actually trigger environmental criminal investigation or enforcement to the degree that critics and the regulated community have suggested. If an industrial explosion occurs or a spill takes place without underlying intentional criminal conduct, it's simply unknown whether the federal or state governments will seek criminal enforcement in five — or ten — or eighty percent of those cases. In addition, no one has studied the degree to which these fears and concerns about criminal liability have hampered or constrained first responses to disasters. 

This study will aid future responses to environmental incidents and releases in the Texas Gulf region by shedding light on the true risks of environmental enforcement after disasters, and offer suggestions on how best to promote effective and speedy disclosure and cleanup in light of those risks. This research will assemble a database of all major industrial disasters in the United States since 2000. 

While it will focus on incidents that have occurred in the Texas Gulf Region, it will include information from other areas of the United States to provide a baseline for comparison and assessment. With the database in hand, the study will then review EPA, DOJ and state records to assess whether these incidents led to any civil and criminal responses by federal and state authorities under relevant environmental laws.

This project is one in a series funded by the state Office of the Governor and administered through the Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence research consortium.