What Recourse Do You Have If Your Neighbor Is Polluting?
As Robert Frost famously said in his poem Mending Wall, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But what happens when, despite a good fence, you find hazardous runoff on your property? Whether your neighbor is actively dumping waste, hoarding abandoned vehicles, or simply failing to properly dispose of oil, antifreeze, or other harmful agents, the consequences to the surrounding community can be dire. As an affected neighbor, what enforcement procedures are available to you?
Read on to learn more about how environmental law governs this type of situation:
Who manages environmental issues in the government?
The federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), governs all issues dealing with pollution and the environment. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia each have their own environmental agencies as well. These agencies share concurrent jurisdiction with the EPA, meaning that (depending upon the severity of the case) both the state environmental agency and the EPA can work together on a single case.
What regulations or laws are there regarding pollution?
Again, there are both federal and state regulations governing pollution, including air, soil, water, and even noise pollution. Federal pollution regulations are enforced by the EPA, while state regulations are enforced by the state environmental agency. State laws may expand upon the federal laws — meaning make them stricter in certain cases — but cannot invalidate the federal laws. If someone is violating a state pollution law, but not the equivalent federal pollution law, he or she may still be subject to fines and sanctions for violation of the state law.
What can you do if you believe your neighbor is breaking anti-polluting laws?
The first step is to look up your local pollution laws to ensure that they apply to your neighbor’s actions. Your state’s environmental management agency should have its own website with these laws in an easily-accessible format. The EPA has its laws organized by topic area here.
Next, contact your neighbor. If you’re interested in maintaining a good relationship, it’s a good idea to give him or her a heads-up on this issue and give them a chance to correct it before reporting your neighbor to the relevant authorities. (If you’ve already attempted to bring this issue to your neighbor’s attention, you can skip this step).
Finally, contact your local or state environmental protection agency. They will investigate the matter and, if charges are warranted, require your neighbor to clean up his or her property and/or pay restitution to any affected parties. If the matter is also covered by federal law, the EPA may step in.
If your neighbor refuses to follow the requirements of the state or federal EPA, the government may legally seize the property and use sale proceeds to pay for cleanup efforts.