Incremental increases in statutory civil penalty amounts for statutes administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have typically occurred. Dating back to 1990, federal agencies have long been required to issue regulations to adjust their statutory civil penalties to reflect inflation, maintain the deterrent effect of statutory civil penalties, and promote compliance with the law.
The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, (“DCIA”) required agencies to review their statutory civil penalties every four years and to adjust the statutory civil penalty amounts for inflation if the increase met the DCIA’s adjustment methodology. Over time, since the DCIA methodology caused statutory civil penalties to lose value relative to total inflation, the formula was revised.
Accordingly, for the first time, this year’s adjustments to federal statutory civil penalties were calculated using a revised set of criteria under the 2015 amendments to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act (the “2015 Act”). Under the 2015 Act, federal agencies are required to adjust the level of statutory civil penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment through an interim final rulemaking and, starting on January 15, 2017, make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation. Thus, once a federal agency such as EPA has enacted the one-time catch-up rule, each statutory civil penalty amount will be adjusted every year (rather than every four years) to reflect the inflation that has thereafter accrued. However, there is a cap within the 2015 Act, under which the maximum amount of any initial catch-up increase cannot exceed 150 percent of the level that was in effect on November 2, 2015.