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Injunctive Relief (IR)

Region 5 Office of Regional Counsel (ORC)

View Region 5 IR reports

What is Injunctive Relief?

At the end of each fiscal year (October 1 through September 30), EPA prepares a public report describing the number and type of cases in which injunctive relief was secured through settlement and litigation of enforcement actions during the previous fiscal year.

Generally, injunctive relief is action ordered of a Defendant by a federal District Court Judge. This relief may be ordered either as a term of an order consented to by the parties in a lawsuit (where the parties file a "Consent Decree") or after a contested trial before the Judge.

An "injunction" is an order to a party to affirmatively perform, or to refrain from performing, some designated action. The federal environmental laws also empower EPA to issue administrative orders that require a regulated entity to perform, or refrain from performing, some designated action, and to come into, and maintain, compliance with those environmental laws.

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The IR process

Federal environmental laws contain enforceable standards which, when violated, are subject to enforcement (provided, of course, that the law at issue, e.g. the Clean Water Act, authorizes the enforcement).

Enforcement is done through the filing of lawsuits either in Federal District Courts or within EPA through an administrative proceeding. Most environmental statutes authorize both the assessment of a civil penalty for violations and injunctive relief to bring the violator back into compliance. The federal environmental laws also provide for criminal penalties and jail time for egregious violations, but the subject of our reports is civil and administrative relief, not criminal fines and remedies.

Civil penalties we usually assess are for single, non-continuous violations. However, in cases in which the violations continue, a civil penalty in itself is insufficient to bring the violator into compliance. Therefore, judges (and EPA) can order a violator to cease its violative behavior - this is what is known as "injunctive relief." An injunction is simply a court order to do, or refrain from doing, a particular act. An injunction is limited to those measures which a violator must undertake to achieve and maintain final compliance (and to reduce the adverse effect(s) of the violations to the greatest extent practicable pending the achievement of final compliance).

EPA may obtain injunctive relief even in a case which is settled; it is simply that the regulated entity agrees to execute certain actions (e.g. updating existing control technology or implementing interim controls or measures). In the context of a settlement, injunctive relief is required by a Consent Decree approved by the Court or an administrative Consent Order signed by the Respondent. Technically, only courts can issue "injunctions." As an administrative agency in the Executive Branch, EPA can issue orders but, unlike judges in the Judicial Branch, EPA cannot independently enforce those orders through contempt authority. However, EPA uses the term "injunctive relief" to refer to activity required by both court and administrative orders. This definition describes the content our IR reports

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An example of IR

During an inspection, EPA finds that Company Z is violating the Clean Air Act (CAA) by releasing excessive amounts of particulate matter into the air from an incinerator.

A complaint is filed in federal district court in which EPA seeks both a $500,000 penalty and an injunctive order for the company to come into compliance by installing an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) on its violating facility.

Both EPA and Company Z sign a Consent Decree. The Consent Decree is presented to a federal district court judge who accepts the settlements and has it entered. The Consent Decree orders Company Z to pay the penalty and begin to construct the ESP.

Because the construction of an ESP will take about two years to complete, the Order also requires the company to install interim controls to reduce pollution from the incinerator to the greatest extent possible pending achievement of compliance.

Company Z begins the construction of the ESP and pays the penalty, and in the meantime replaces its offtake piping, modifies the doors to its incinerator, and increases the frequency of particulate matter emissions readings until the fully functioning ESP will allow the facility to achieve and maintain final compliance.

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