California Increases Penalties for Oil Spill-related Offenses

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In September 2020, the state legislature in California enacted a statutory amendment to its marine oil pollution law (AB 3214), which greatly enhanced the monetary penalties that can be imposed after such incidents, reads a Gard article.

The law came into effect in January 2021.

Criminal penalties revised 

Following this decision, criminal penalties for oil spill-related offenses under California’s Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act are now increased.

For the records, under earlier California law, codified as Section 8670.64 of the California Government Code, oil spill-related violations could be criminally punished with a fine of between $5,000 to $500,000.

Although from now on, the new law significantly increases penalties in two ways:

  • The new law doubles the existing fines such that, upon conviction, a state court must now impose a fine of between $10,000 and $1,000,000.
  • For spills over 1,000 gallons, the new law permits courts to impose a new, additional fine of up to $1,000 per gallon spilled.

New law affects fines

The new law affects only fines. The underlying offenses apply to a “person” who:

  • Knowingly fails to follow the direction or orders of the administrator in connection with an oil spill.
  • Knowingly fails to notify the Coast Guard that a vessel is disabled within one hour of the disability and the vessel, while disabled, causes a discharge of oil that enters marine waters
  • Knowingly engages in or causes the discharge or spill of oil into waters of the state, or a person who reasonably should have known that the person was engaging in or causing the discharge or spill of oil into waters of the state, unless the discharge is authorized by the United States, the state, or another agency with appropriate jurisdiction
  • Knowingly fails to begin cleanup, abatement, or removal of spilled oil as required in Section 8670.25.

A “person” is defined to include “an individual, trust, firm, joint stock company, or corporation.” (Gov. C. §8670.3).

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Source: Gard

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