Not wanting to be outdone by sister agencies like the FBI or the DEA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created its own “Most Wanted” page: “EPA Fugitives.”

Just as with the FBI’s page, the EPA site offers pictures and facts about the criminals it’s trying to track down.  On the right-hand side, the site lists four pictures that have “captured” written across them in red ink.  Success!

But the EPA’s copy-cat approach should raise some eyebrows.  Should we really be treating environmental “criminal” Alessandro Giordano in a similar fashion to how we’re dealing with Osama Bin Laden?

 Let’s compare the two rap sheets:

Alessandro Giordano illegally imported automobiles that did not meet the United States emissions standards.  Alessandro Giordano fled the country. He is believed to be in Italy.

Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world. Bin Laden is the leader of a terrorist organization known as Al-Qaeda, “The Base”.  He is left-handed and walks with a cane.

The two don’t exactly balance out, do they?  So why is the EPA heavily promoting this list that so obviously mimics the FBI?

The answer: self-promotion and self-validation are now of paramount importance to the EPA.  This list, coupled with increased convictions, screams of an organization that is trying to justify its increased staff and wants to be a major federal player.  

A recent memo from the law firm Alston & Bird confirms this.  The memo notes that EPA has already announced that it will increase “the percentage of criminal cases with charges filed against individuals and corporations to 45% by 2015” (as compared to 36% now).  Come again?  Is EPA setting a quota on the number of concrete criminal cases it must bring?  Doesn’t that put an impetus on them to tilt the balance in favor of criminal sanctions in those cases where the use of administrative or civil sanctions would be more appropriate under EPA’s own criminal guidelines?  If EPA needs to fill its quota, business civil liberties be damned!

The most likely result of EPA expansion and its results-oriented approach to enforcement is an increase in the arrest of those committing relatively minor offenses and people who had no intention of committing a crime.  Consider, for instance, the plight of Massachusetts small business owner James Knott.  The EPA utilized SWAT team-like tactics to raid his business based on information from a warantless test at a downstream waste treatment plant that the water’s pH readings were above acceptable levels.  Mr. Despite lacking proof of environmental harm, Knott was charged with a felony.  Charges were dropped after evidence arose that EPA inspectors altered the pH reading logbooks.

Washington Legal Foundation wholeheartedly rejects this type of overcriminalization of non-violent, business offenses.  The use of criminal sanctions in environmental cases should be reserved for the most egregious cases where specific intent and environmental harm can be demonstrated. 

But locking people up feels good – it creates the impression that the country needs a more robust EPA with more agents packing weapons.  And who could say otherwise with the likes of these “EPA Fugitives” on the loose?