Stupidity is never an excuse, and ignorance won’t likely cut it either. A contractor may be able to skate by on the lack of knowledge for a while, but sooner or later, the law, be it federal or regional, catches up to their illegal practices.
At the federal level, the EPA’s environmental enforcement programs are broken into multiple categories, each covering a specific sector. The National Enforcement Priorities department addresses the most widespread types of violations that also pose the greatest health and environmental risks. Federally owned facilities or businesses fall under the Federal Facility Enforcement program; and remediation and clean up fall under the Clean Up Enforcement program’s jurisdiction.
It is the intentional or deliberate violations that are classed as criminal. According to the EPA, “The Criminal Enforcement Program focuses investigative resources on cases that involve negligent, knowing, or willful violations of federal environmental law. Generally speaking, knowing violations are those that are deliberate and not the product of accident or mistake.”
That being said, mild protection from prosecution may be found in ignorance, but the next sentence from the EPA doesn’t give much room for being uneducated or playing dumb. “Knowledge of the specific statutes or regulations that prohibit the wrongful conduct is not required. When a violator is aware that the wrongful conduct is prohibited by law, the violation is said to be ‘willful.’ ”
State-level violations are often smaller and less harmful crimes that do not always warrant federal intervention. Some instances inspiring state and local intervention include: Residential or household dumping of vehicle/lawnmower oil; improper disposal of litter; use of residential garage to paint vehicles; the presence of mold in residences; and the venting of air coolants to name a few.
Understanding that environmental ignorance is not protection gives the contractor an advantage, allowing him to spend time researching and training his staff on proper handling and disposal of multiple chemicals.