A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot fine companies for violations of hazardous waste regulations if state agencies have already taken action.
The practice, where the federal government files a lawsuit when the state has already investigated the alleged action and begun to take action to correct the violation, is known as “overfiling.”
In the case in question, Harmon Industries reported in 1987 to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that its employees had dumped toxic chemicals behind its plant. The state investigated and was negotiating with Harmon Industries on clean-up measures. The state also decided not to fine Harmon because it had reported the violation.
In 1991, the EPA issued a $2.7 million fine against Harmon. Harmon appealed the decision, arguing that EPA had delegated its authority to the state agency. The Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed.
Harmon attorney Robert Payne called the ruling “a well-reasoned resolution to the question.” He continued, “this is going to affect EPA throughout the (judicial ) circuit and, possibly, throughout the country.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Christine Romano said, “The EPA is concerned that this ruling will have a negative impact on the federal enforcement program.”