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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Federal Civil and Criminal Penalties Possibly Applicable to Parties Responsible for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Robert Meltz
Legislative Attorney

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, Congress has given much attention to the compensatory liability provisions of the Oil Pollution Act and, to a lesser extent, those of the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. However, federal laws possibly relevant to the oil spill also impose civil and criminal money penalties, which may reach dollar amounts in connection with the Gulf spill greater than those for compensatory liability. This report summarizes selected federal civil and criminal penalty provisions that may be found violated in connection with the Gulf spill and related worker fatalities. It does not purport to be exhaustive. CRS stresses that it has no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Gulf spill other than what has been publicly reported; hence the provisions listed here are only an informed guess as to those that ultimately may be found violated

At the outset, the penalty ceilings in the program statutes listed in this report may not be the applicable ones. As for civil penalty ceilings, the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act requires federal agencies to adjust at least once every four years the maximum (and minimum, if any) dollar amount on civil penalties within their jurisdiction to reflect movement in the Consumer Price Index. As for criminal penalty ceilings, the Criminal Fine Improvements Act often applies. Under this statute, the maximum criminal fine a court may impose may be up to the greater of the amount specified in the law setting forth the offense or various alternative ceilings in the Criminal Fine Improvements Act. 

For each statute listed, the report describes any civil administrative penalties, civil judicial penalties, and criminal penalties authorized by the statute that conceivably might be relevant to the Gulf spill. The program statutes covered are the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Oil Pollution Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and Occupational Safety and Health Act. In addition, the report lists several provisions in the federal penal code that are often used in the prosecution of environmental crimes—involving aiding and abetting, conspiracy, false statements to the federal government, mail fraud, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice

Date of Report: August 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41370
Price: $29.95

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