Guilty as Discharged: Criminal Penalties for Violation of the Clean Water Act
USA v. J. Pruett et al., case number 11-30572, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The 5th Circuit ruled on May 15, 2012 to affirm the felony conviction of wastewater treatment provider Jeffrey Pruett in the Western District of Louisiana for negligent violation of the Clean Water Act.
Prosecutors in the District Court had argued that Pruett negligently violated the record keeping requirements of the Clean Water Act, and negligently failed to provide proper operation and maintenance of the facilities he and his companies operated, resulting in making discharges in excess of effluent limitations and making unpermitted discharges. Pruett was found guilty and sentenced to serve 21 months in prison.
On appeal, Pruett argued, inter alia, that a gross negligence standard should be required for such penalties. However, the 5th Circuit affirmed the ruling of the District Court, reasoning that the plain language of Title 33 Section 1319(c)(1)(A), the law that imposes the penalties, requires only “negligent” violations of the Act, and its legislative history did not show that Congress intended that word to be interpreted differently.
This case further highlights the need of US Companies for advice of counsel on issue of compliance, document management, and risk avoidance strategies.
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