How to report an environmental violation

Filing complaints about idling trucks, illegal dumping and wasting water can help the planet make some money

Illustrations by Kat Sims for The Washington Post


Dedicated bounty hunters can be found all over New York City scanning the bustling city streets for their targets: idle trucks. It spews greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere. In Milwaukee, people who report illegal dumping can be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Californians are encouraged to report forms of water waste, such as flooding of lawns.

In a country where most people are Familiar with a version of the phrase“If you see something, say something,” it’s really no surprise that local governments nationwide have turned to the public to help enforce environmental laws.

“There is widespread public support for enforcing environmental laws, yet very few resources dedicated to getting the job done,” said Steve Fleshley, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Government can’t be everywhere all the time. Their eyes can’t be on the ground everywhere all the time, so they need help and this is one way the public can get involved.”

Fleischli added that reporting violations is an important way for citizens to do their part to ensure that our laws are “meaningfully enforced.” “They are meant to complement, not replace, government actions, and therefore can be very effective.”

Here’s what you need to know about some of the different ways you can help eliminate environmental offenders.

Many states and capital It has idle limits for some or all vehicles. In some places, deceleration laws target specific vehicles that can be important sources of pollution, such as school buses, state-owned vehicles, and those that weigh more than some. Other regulations are intended to Minimize damage To keep engines running by limiting idle to between three and five minutes for many vehicles. According to the Department of EnergyEliminating unnecessary idleness of personal vehicles would have the same effect as taking 5 million cars off the road.

The Environmental Protection Agency is enacting a stricter pollution rule for trucks, vans, and buses

To help enforce slowdown restrictions, a number of cities have launched initiatives to encourage the public to report offenders, and reporting often involves providing proof in the form of videos or photos. Keep in mind that the reporting process and requirements for what constitutes illegal slowdown can vary based on your location. Here are some examples:

  • Philadelphia: Could you Reporting heavy diesel vehicles to slow down illegally by calling the complaint line or sending an email.
  • Capital: The Ministry of Energy and Environment in the capital has Create his own sluggish enforcement program. Reports of vehicles idling for more than three minutes (the time limit is extended to five minutes when temperatures are 32°F or below) can be submitted by DC 311 mobile app. Residents are encouraged to file complaints about commercial trucks and buses, in accordance with the program’s reporting guidelines. Personal and non-commercial passenger cars and vehicles that need to continue to operate machinery, such as cement mixers, are exempt.
  • New York: It became the first city in the country to offer a reduction on any fines issued to people who report polluting trucks. Launched in 2018, in New York.Air citizen complaints programIt incentivizes people to submit videos of trucks idling for more than three minutes, or one minute if they’re out of school, by offering compensation of 25 percent of the final penalty. With fines for illegal idling They range from $350 to $2,000One successful report can earn you over $80.

But while the New York program, which is enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection, has He reportedly sent complaints of illegal slowdowns on the rise In recent years, there have been some concerns about offering citizens a monetary reward.

said Maria McKee Haberfeld, a professor in the departments of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. That’s why I don’t think it should necessarily be compensated with money. I think it is a matter of good citizenship and not a for-profit initiative.”

Using money as an incentive, Haberfeld said, can create its own problems. She added that in addition to potentially creating additional stress on community-police relations, the lucrative opportunity could lead people to file exaggerated or false reports. “It’s also problematic from the point of view of potential altercations that might occur with the people who report them.”

In New York, some dedicated citizens in law enforcement say so expect to encounterwhile others narrated Getting into physical fights with drivers of the vehicles they are trying to report.

New York City is also looking to expand its enforcement of stoppages to illegally parked vehicles, including those blocking bike lanes. similar to idle program, Pro draft bill Citizens would be allowed to send photos of prohibited bike lanes and other parking infractions, such as crossings and sidewalk obstructions, to the Department of Transportation and potentially receive a quarter of the resulting ticket amount.

“When we look at the largest sources of emissions in New York City, our buildings are followed by transportation,” said New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler, who sponsored the legislation. “We have to get New Yorkers out of their personal vehicles and into subways, buses, and bikes. But if New Yorkers are going to commute regularly by bike, they need to feel safe doing so.”

In response to concerns about potentially creating yet another reason for citizen vigilantes to take to the streets, Restler said it is essential for people who will be filing complaints to understand the law and reporting guidelines and to receive appropriate training.

“The most important thing for me is that we make our streets safe, and my priority is that pedestrians and cyclists can move on our streets safely and efficiently,” he said. “The potential incentive for complainants is an effective way for us to maximize accountability against illegal activity and quickly make our streets safer.”

Offering bonuses, Fleischli said, is “nothing new.” He added that enforcement agencies still have “a lot of discretion” when it comes to addressing any violations reported by citizens.

“There is still truth involved in the process to determine whether or not violations actually occurred,” he said. “It’s not like the person who issued the ticket only himself.”

A number of local governments have also turned to citizens for help in enforcing laws intended to do so Reducing illegal dumping. Through these programs, similar to other community reporting initiatives, people who report violations in certain cities and counties can be eligible for cash rewards. Some examples include:

  • Rochester, New York: City Offers $100 To any citizen whose report would lead to a person or organization doing unlawful dumping.
  • Milwaukee: In Milwaukee, people who report illegal dumping can Receive up to $1,000 If they provide enough information leading to a quote. “Illegal dumping is a burden to residents and a blight on our beautiful city,” says the city’s website. “Don’t let illegal dumping destroy your neighborhood.”
  • Sacramento: This rewards program It awards between $500 and $1,000 to people who provide information leading to a sentence or arrest and conviction, with limits on the total number of rewards and the amount of compensation one person can receive each year.

If you live in a drought-prone area, you may be able to help collapse On wasteful water use by reporting violations of local regulations.

in stricken by drought California, residents are encouraged to report water use violations through an online portal. The website, which allows users to submit reports anonymously as well as photos of leaks and waste water, is described as “an easy-to-use tool that directly reports waste water to the appropriate authority—anywhere in California.”

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the gate, as a “one-stop platform” for individuals and organizations to file complaints, said Chris Hyun, head of emergency regulations for water conservation in the United States. California Water Resources Control Board.

“What happens in one building or house affects the water supply of all buildings and households in the municipality area,” Hyun said. “To be able to inform the common water supplier, to understand where the leak could be or where the violations could be, helps everyone in the community.”

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