Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Congress and the state legislatures have manifested their increasing concern for environmental protection over the past several years by focusing more attention on the punishment of those who violate environmental protection requirements. Rather than seeking to enforce environmental standards merely through civil penalties, lawmakers have imposed criminal penalties, including fines and even jail sentences, on those who violate environmental requirements, from plant managers all the way up the ladder to corporate officers.'

Lawmakers and agency officials have not limited their efforts to the conviction and punishment of environmental criminals, however. Many states have adopted so-called "bad actor" statutes that allow state environmental agencies to consider an applicant's past record of environmental compliance in determining whether to grant an operating permit. By factoring a permit applicant's prior history of environmental "citizenship" into the permit approval process, these statutes enable state officials to identify parties who have acted in flagrant violation of environmental laws, and prevent continuing environmental degradation by denying those parties permits to operate new polluting facilities.

While the apparent policy of environmental protection behind these statutes is laudable, that policy is not the sole driving force behind all bad actor laws.