Two Federal Decisions Signal Further Expansion of Criminal Liability for Environmental Crimes

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Recently, two federal courts, including the influential U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued opinions in criminal environmental cases involving violations of recordkeeping requirements. Like most environmental criminal cases, the recordkeeping violations were the result of discharges that were not authorized, and not reported. Taken together, these decisions illustrate how federal courts continue to impose broad criminal liability on corporate defendants, their officers and employees in alleged violations of federal environmental statutes.

The first case, decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, upheld convictions and sentences against a wastewater treatment owner and operator and two of his companies for violations of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). Defendant-Appellant J. Jeffrey Pruett, through Defendant-Appellants Louisiana Land & Water Co. and LWC Management, operated twenty-eight wastewater treatment facilities in Louisiana subject to the CWA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit program. The seventeen-count indictment charged Appellants with violations at six of the facilities, including:

(1) failure to provide proper operation and maintenance of the facilities;

(2) failure to maintain monitoring results as required by the permits;

(3) discharge in excess of effluent limitations; and

(4) unpermitted discharge.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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