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WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday renewed his efforts to enact legislation to enhance penalties for corporations and individuals responsible for environmental crimes.  Leahy first introduced the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act in June 2010, following the April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Leahy authored bill will strengthen penalties for companies who violate the Clean Water Act and provide victims of environmental crime with access to compensation for their loss.  An important goal of the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act is to ensure that there are meaningful penalties for corporate misconduct including prison time, not fines alone, which can be a mere cost of doing business.  The Judiciary Committee approved the legislation last year, but it was not acted on by the full Senate.

“This bill takes two common sense steps – well-reasoned increases in sentences and mandatory restitution for environmental crime,” said Leahy.  “These measures are tough but fair. They are important steps toward deterring criminal conduct that can cause environmental and economic disaster and toward helping those who have suffered so much from the wrongdoing of big oil and other large corporations.”

The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act directs the Sentencing Commission to review and amend sentencing guidelines to reflect the seriousness of environmental crime.  It also makes restitution mandatory for Clean Water Act violations.  Under current law, restitution is discretionary, and only available under limited circumstances.  The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act will help victims like those affected by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including the families of those killed by the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, seek compensation for their losses caused by criminal activity.

The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act is cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Leahy chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing last summer in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster to examine victim compensation and the existing liability caps for corporations responsible for the cleanup of such disasters.

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