It can be especially bad if it appears that the company was trying to cover up the problem. That is why self-auditing is such an important benefit to companies.
Unfortunately, many companies choose not to self audit. They do not want to look for problems because they expect to find some. Finding problems means reporting problems, which means paying fines. A lot of companies do not want to pay them, even if they are less when they are found through self-auditing. These companies just leave their pollution problems uncorrected and hope that the EPA won't pay them a surprise visit where they will have to try to hide their problems.
Clearly, the economic benefits and the social benefits of pollution control and the Clean Water Act are quite high, although not everyone realizes how important it is to make sure that the water stays clean; not only for the people and animals who live here now, but for future generations. Companies get rewarded for not polluting, and because companies are not polluting, people, animals, and plants everywhere are enjoying clean, clear water. When companies do not pollute it is a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the federal government, because they do not have to deal with all of the costs associated with companies who pollute the water. Costs can be a big problem for companies and for the government. Regulating pollution control is very expensive.
As with benefits, costs of pollution are both economic and social. There are fines, of course, for companies that pollute the water and show a disregard for the safety and well being of the environment and the people and animals that live in it. Social costs are things like people not buying a company's products because they know the company pollutes the water. There are other costs as well. For example, it is often very cheap, economically speaking, to pollute, and very expensive to make sure that one does not. The kind of equipment needed to keep pollution down to a specific level are very expensive, and not all companies can afford it.
Even some of the companies that can afford it just do not want to spend the money. They assume that they can get away with the pollution for a while. When they get caught, it often costs them more than it would have if they had just bought the anti-pollution equipment in the first place. Now they still have to buy the equipment on top of all of the fines and penalties the government imposes on them.
Citizen enforcement of the Clean Water Act is one of the newest ways to keep companies honest. Citizens are empowered to file suit against a company that they know is polluting too much or operating without a permit. The fines for this can be up to $27,500 per day per violation, as well as the litigation costs and reasonable attorney's fees (Smith, 1997).
The EPA and other governing bodies do not always have the manpower they need to keep an eye on every company to make sure that they are not polluting more than they should be. Some pollution is to be expected, but the company has to have permits and stay within pre-set limits. It is not just a matter of looking at water coming from a pipe and saying that the company is polluting too much. The Clean Water Act is time-consuming and difficult to enforce. That is why attorneys like Richard Smith (1997) are taking up the cause and helping watchdog groups file suit against companies that they believe are polluters, and that is also why individuals that are concerned about their environment must speak up and make a strong case for sustainable development.
Economic Incentives. 2002. United States Government. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer782/aer782d.pdf.
Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 (Clean Water Act). 2002. United States Government. http://www.usbr.gov/laws/cleanwat.html.
Gibbs, D. 1998a. "Regional development agencies and sustainable development." Regional Studies, 32(4): 365-368.
Gibbs, D.C., et al. 1998b. "Struggling with sustainability': weak and strong interpretations of sustainable development within local authority policy." Environment and Planning, 30(8): 1351-1365.
Gilbert, a. 1996. "Criteria for sustainability in the development of indicators for sustainable development." Chemosphere 33(9): 1739-1748.
Girard, L.F. 1998. "The institutional dimension of urban sustainable development." International Journal of Environment and Pollution, 10(1): 163-176.
Glasbergen, P. 2000. "The Environmental Cooperative: Self-Governance in Sustainable Rural Development." Journal of Planning Education and Research, 9(3): 240-59.
McDonald, G.T. 1996. "Planning as sustainable development." Journal of Planning Education and Research, 15(3): 225-236.
Pfaff, Alexander S.P., and Sanchirico, Chris William. 1999. Environmental self-auditing: setting the proper incentives for discovery and correction of environmental harm. Columbia University. http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/events/econSeminar/PfaffSanchirico.pdf.
Smith, Richard a. 1997. Citizen suits put teeth in Clean Water Act. The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. http://www.djc.com/special/enviro97/10030780.htm.