EPA piles up billions

Environmental Protection Agency investigations yielded more than $5.6 billion in criminal and civil penalties over the past year, the agency said Friday.

An annual report containing enforcement and compliance totals from fiscal 2013 shows roughly $4.5 billion worth of fines, restitution and court-ordered environmental projects linked to criminal cases.

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Civil penalties surpassed $1.1 billion, according to the report.

“Our enforcement work over the past year reflects our focus on the biggest violators and the cases that make the most difference in protecting American communities from pollution,” assistant EPA Administrator Cynthia Giles said in a written statement accompanying the report.

The bulk of the money stems from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf Coast. Cases filed against BP and other defendants as a result of the spill generated more than $3.7 billion for impacted Gulf states and communities, according to the EPA.

Wal-Mart paid more than $80 million in fines and penalties for mishandling pesticides and hazardous waste. The company has also agreed to implement new waste handling systems and a new training program.

In the largest single-site pollution settlement in U.S. history, AVX Corp. committed to pay over $366 million to clean up contamination in Massachusetts’s New Bedford Harbor.

Other settlements involve toxic air from refineries and chemical plants, emissions from coal fired power plants and post-storm sewage discharged in cities around the country.

“Driving compliance and deterring violations in these sectors is a critical way EPA protects the air, water and land on which Americans depend, and creates a level playing field for companies that do the right thing,” said Giles, who heads the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.