DEQ’s enforcement mission is to ensure compliance with Virginia's environmental laws and regulations to protect public health and the environment for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth. Through the use of administrative, civil and criminal enforcement actions, the Enforcement Program supports DEQ's mission to promote environmental stewardship.
The Enforcement Program has a statewide presence with enforcement staff in six regional offices. In addition, DEQ coordinates closely with federal, state and local officials in a comprehensive strategy to thoroughly investigate reports of violation.
To successfully perform the enforcement mission, DEQ has established the following goals:
- To execute enforcement actions that are effective, timely and appropriate, consistent and certain, fair and reasonable.
- To bring parties subject to a violation into compliance and preclude continuing violation.
- To remediate the environmental impact of violations.
- To recover civil charges and penalties where appropriate, including amounts sufficient to remove the economic benefit of noncompliance.
- To promote deterrence of the violation of environmental requirements.
- To closely observe due process and conduct enforcement actions courteously and professionally.
- To assist the regulated community in maintaining compliance with environmental requirements and to promote environmental stewardship.
- To maintain public confidence and promote public participation in DEQ's Enforcement Program.
- To coordinate with appropriate authorities where criminal activity is suspected.
DEQ's Enforcement Program is designed to protect human health and the environment, assure the integrity of DEQ's regulatory programs, and promote the understanding that environmental compliance and responsible stewardship benefits everyone in Virginia.
DEQ uses a broad range of enforcement options and selects the most appropriate enforcement method for each action. Each enforcement action begins with an evaluation of the least adversarial method appropriate to the violation. "Appropriate" means the enforcement action addresses each violation and the enforcement response is proportionate to the violation. An enforcement action that is appropriate to the violation deters similar violations by the regulated party and throughout the community.
By statute, DEQ's Enforcement Program must be timely, or "expeditious." The response to a violation should be swift and certain, and escalate for those parties that remain out of compliance. Also by statute, DEQ's Enforcement Program must be "consistent" and "comprehensive."
Consistency means that members of the regulated community (public and private) should expect similar responses to comparable violations, given similar impacts on human health and the environment, regardless of where in Virginia the violation occurs. DEQ recognizes that each violation is fact-specific and it is unlikely that two enforcement actions will be entirely similar. While consistency is an important factor in an enforcement program, it does not mean strict adherence to past decisions that may be excessively aged or are no longer appropriate for reference. To be comprehensive, the Enforcement Program administers enforcement actions for all environmental media, including water, waste and air. Active enforcement actions are closely monitored and coordinated with parties responsible for violations to ensure a full return to compliance.
DEQ believes that reasonable and fair enforcement results occur when actions are pursued appropriately and consistently within the bounds of law and regulation. DEQ values due process, transparency and advocacy in the administration of the Enforcement Program.
DEQ employs a variety of enforcement tools to encourage environmental compliance. The least adversarial method is informal enforcement that notifies a facility of suspected noncompliance and encourages self-correction without further action. In such a case, DEQ does not progress to another level of enforcement or render any decision regarding whether violations have actually occurred. In many cases, informal enforcement may be correspondence advising the party of a potential violation.
Formal enforcement methods involve an administrative or civil process that may result in an enforceable document such as an administrative order or judicial decree. Examples of the formal enforcement methods include consent orders, fact finding proceedings, formal hearings and civil suits. Administrative proceedings are conducted pursuant to the Virginia Administrative Process Act.
For more specific information on enforcement actions and how they are processed, refer to the Laws, Regulations & Guidance page.