July 29, 2004

Still Above The Law: Conclusions and Recommendations

Lax enforcement of clean air laws has created a double standard that is neither fair nor just — not to the millions of Californians who make sure their cars comply with smog standards, not to the many companies that abide by the environmental rules their competitors violate with impunity, and not to the communities whose health and safety are affected by toxic industrial chemicals in the air they breathe.

This level of illegal activity would not be tolerated under laws regulating other areas of society or commerce. The situation continues in part because most Californians don't know how routinely the clean air laws are violated or how poorly they are enforced.

EWG recommends:

  • Penalties assessed by the air districts should be increased across the board, not just for high-profile major violations. If a facility continues to routinely violate its permit conditions despite frequent fines, the penalty amounts should rise until the illegal activity ceases. To ensure that fines are large enough to deter repeat offenders, the Legislature should not set maximum fines but tougher minimums, just as they set minimum sentences for other lawbreakers.
  • The California regional office of the EPA should exercise its authority and intervene in cases where local regulators don't follow the Agency's guidelines for effective enforcement against high-priority violators, and bring these persistent offenders into compliance with the law. Currently, the EPA has difficulty obtaining enforcement data from air districts, a basic step to ensure that their performance is adequate.
  • Each California air district should be required to both publish and provide online user-friendly reports detailing its enforcement efforts, including which would the nature of the violation, when and where it occurred and the amount of each fine. Each district should establish a program or office to assist members of the community in obtaining and understanding emissions and enforcement data.