Enforcement of TSCA and the Federal Five-Year Statute of Limitations for Penalty Actions

Many years prior to TSCA, Congress enacted a general five-year statute of limitations for actions for the enforcement of civil penalties, fines, and forfeitures, which, if applicable, would alleviate these problems. Although the Agency claims that no statute of limitations applies, this Note argues that the general five-year statute of limitations, found in section 2462 of title 28, should apply to EPA’s administrative proceedings to assess penalties as well as to later collection actions in federal courts. Part I details TSCA’s enforcement procedures, which create special difficulties when applying section 2462’s statute of limitations. Part I also examines how EPA, industry, and agency judges have interpreted section 2462 as applied to TSCA enforcement. It concludes by summarizing the considerations that a court must address when faced with the issue. Part II analyzes general principles of statutory construction, congressional discussions of section 2462, court decisions in related administrative areas, and general purposes of statutes of limitations. It argues that applying section 2462 to EPA’s assessment of penalties as well as to district court proceedings is consistent with established principles and appropriately resolves the issue. Part III asserts that separate five-year periods should apply to the Agency’s assessment of penalties and to collection actions in federal court. Part III also discusses when each of these actions should accrue. This Note concludes that applying section 2462 separately to administrative penalty proceedings and to federal court collection actions best promotes the public’s interest in enforcing TSCA while protecting industry’s right to be free from stale claims.