William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


When violations of environmental laws involve significant harm or culpable conduct, the application of criminal enforcement tools is required. Yet, our understanding of how environmental laws have been criminally enforced historically in the Southern United States remains poor. Our goal is to analyze historical charging and sentencing patterns and show the broader themes that emerge in environmental crime prosecutions over time in the region. Through content analysis of all 2,588 criminal prosecutions resulting from U.S. EPA criminal investigations, 1983–2019, we select all 799 prosecutions occurring in the Southern United States. Results show that 44% of prosecutions focus on water pollution, 19% on hazardous waste, 17% air pollution, and about 10% state-level violations. Total penalties assessed to all defendants at sentencing exceeded $1.43 billion in monetary penalties and about 2,750 years’ probation and 866 years’ incarceration. We conclude with forward-facing solutions towards improving environmental criminal enforcement outcomes including enhanced community policing, greater public salience for enforcement activities, and enhanced resources.