New law boosts penalties for Calif. polluters

Chris Rizo Oct. 15, 2009, 12:29pm

Pedro Nava (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Local prosecutors in California will be able to seek jail time for polluters, under a new law authored by a Democratic candidate for state attorney general.

Judging by this bill and other legislation supported by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, he would likely be an aggressive enforcer of environmental law if elected next year to succeed fellow Democrat Jerry Brown as the state's chief law enforcement officer.

Assembly Bill 305, signed recently by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, allows authorities beginning Jan. 1 to seek one year in jail for individuals or businesses that fail to report a hazardous materials spill, or who make a false or misleading report about a spill.

A maximum fine of $50,000 was the previous penalty. Nava's law will allow prosecutors to seek both a fine and imprisonment. The bill also will extend the statute of limitations for not reporting a spill from one to five years.

"Increased enforcement will provide prosecutors the tools to crack down on polluters who are not proactive in responding to spills," Nava said in a statement. "As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to send a strong message to polluters. Companies that handle hazardous materials need to work diligently to ensure that the environment and the public are safe or there will be serious consequences."

The measure was sponsored by the California District Attorneys Association, which represents local prosecutors. It was handily passed by the Democrat-led state Legislature, clearing the state Assembly 79-0 and the state Senate 22-11. The bill had no official opposition.

The law also will require companies that have facilities that handle hazardous materials to develop a hazardous material release response plan, submit hazardous material inventory and management information, and immediately report any release or threatened release of a hazardous material.

Nava, a member of the California Ocean Protection Council, has a strong record of supporting environmental protection proposals before the state Legislature.

He unsuccessfully this year sought a nonbinding legislative resolution urging Congress and President Barack Obama to reinstate the federal ban on offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Congress failed to reinstate the moratorium, which the Bush administration repealed, opening up federal waters off of the California coast for drilling for the first time since 1981.

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