The best way to learn more about the EPA and this type of work is to get a summer job or internship with the agency. The EPA offers summer employment and internships at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at regional offices and laboratories nationwide. Visit https://www.epa.gov/careers/student-internships for more information.
You can also learn more about being an EPA special agent and other law enforcement jobs by reading Careers in Law Enforcement, by Coy H. Johnston; and get more detailed information about the EPA itself by reading the book The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America's Act, by Robert W. Collin. Other interesting books include Environmental Law and Policy, by James Salzman and Barton Thompson Jr., and Major Problems in American Environmental History, edited by Carolyn Merchant.
Another good way to learn more about the field is to watch video interviews with EPA special agents at http://www.epa.gov/careers. Finally, consider scheduling an information interview with a special agent to learn more about the career.
EPA special agents are part of the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division (EPA CID). They are highly trained, fully authorized law enforcement officers tasked with enforcing U.S. environmental laws as well as any other federal laws in accordance with the guidelines set by the U.S. Attorney General. EPA CID special agents are men and women who bring diverse backgrounds to their jobs. They work to protect air, water, and land resources, and have statutory authority to conduct investigations, carry firearms, make arrests for any federal crime, and execute and serve any warrant.
Special agents investigate cases involving negligent, knowing, or willful violations of federal environmental law. A knowing violation means that the violator may not have known the specific environmental statutes or regulations, but acted deliberately, and the violation was not the result of an accident. A willful violation means the violator was fully aware of the statutes and regulations, and still made the violation. An agent's work involves research to learn more about the possible violation and violator, interviews with people of interest, and note taking and report writing. Other types of environmental crimes that special agents investigate include lying to the government, fraud, or conspiracy. Some examples of environmental crimes, as described on EPA's Web site, include:
Clean Water Act: To avoid having to buy the chemicals needed to run the wastewater treatment unit at a metal finishing company, a plant manager instructs employees to bypass the facility's wastewater treatment unit. By doing this, the company sends untreated wastewater directly to the sewer system, violating the permit issued by the municipal sewer authority. The plant manager is guilty of a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): To avoid having to pay for proper treatment of its hazardous waste, the owner of a cleaning-solvents manufacturing company places at least 30 five-gallon buckets of highly flammable and caustic waste into its dumpster for disposal at a local, municipal landfill that is not authorized to receive hazardous waste. The owner of the company is guilty of a criminal violation of RCRA.
Clean Air Act: The owner of an apartment complex solicits bids to remove 14,000 square feet of old ceiling tiles from the building. Three bidders inspect the building and determine that the tiles contain dangerous asbestos fibers. These three bid, pointing out that in doing the removal, they will be required to adhere to work practice standard in compliance with asbestos removal. A fourth bidder offers a cost-savings to the owner, proposing to remove the tiles without following work practice standards. The owner hires the fourth bidder on this basis and the work is done without following the work practice standards. The owner is guilty of a criminal violation of the Clean Air Act.
Other types of crimes that special agents may investigate include exporting hazardous waste without getting permission from the country that's receiving it; the illegal discharge of pollutants to a U.S. body of water; the illegal importation into the United States of restricted or regulated chemicals; tampering with a drinking-water supply; and mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, or money laundering relating to environmental criminal activities.
EPA CID special agents may also serve on Environmental Crime Task Force teams by coordinating their work with other law enforcement officials and environmental agencies. The mission of these task force teams is to come up with ways to improve the support of environmental-crime enforcement and to brainstorm how to prevent crime before it happens. Members of these teams collaborate by sharing information and providing knowledge and support to each other.
Another part of an EPA special agent's job may involve investigating fugitives. Sometimes people who have been charged with an environmental crime or violation of the U.S. Federal Criminal Code leave the court's jurisdiction, or even the United States, to avoid prosecution and the possibility of having to serve a jail sentence. When they do this, they become fugitives from justice, and agents will work with criminal investigation teams to track them down and arrest them.