Judiciary Committee Approves Leahy-Authored Bill To Hold Big Oil Accountable For Environmental Crimes

Bill Would Strengthen Penalties Against Companies Responsible For Environmental Crimes

WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved legislation authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold oil and other companies responsible for environmental crimes accountable. The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act (ECEA) would strengthen penalties against companies who violate the Clean Water Act while also mandating restitution for victims of environmental crime.  Leahy introduced the legislation on June 9.

“It has been almost two months since the collapse of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig, which killed 11 men,” said Leahy.  “Oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, and deadly contaminants are washing onto the shores and wetlands of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama.  This catastrophe threatens the livelihood of thousands of people throughout the Gulf region.  The people responsible for this catastrophe must be held accountable.  The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act aims to deter environmental crime, protect and compensate its victims, and encourage accountability among corporate actors.”

The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act will direct the Sentencing Commission to amend the sentencing guidelines for environmental crimes to reflect the seriousness of the crime. It will also amend current law to make restitution for violations of the Clean Water Act mandatory. Under current law, restitution for such violations, including those that result in loss of human life, is discretionary.

The bill is cosponsored by Committee members Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Oil has been spilling into the Gulf and contaminating coastlines for more than 60 days. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing earlier this month to examine existing liability caps for corporations responsible for the cleanup of such disasters.

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