Criminal Liability For Violating the Clean Air Act

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established national air quality standards with respect to certain air pollutants. The Clean Air Act requires that states develop a plan that:

  • implements the EPA standards
  • maintains the standards developed by the EPA
  • enforces the standards under the EPA.

Any individual or corporation that knowingly violates any provisions established by the state violates the Clean Air Act. A violation of the Act constitutes a federal felony. If, for example, an individual tampers with a state-required pollution control device, the individual may be charged with a federal violation under the Act because the state’s plan requiring the usage of the pollution control device was approved by the EPA.

Air Toxics Program

In accordance with the Air Toxics Program under the Act, the EPA is required to establish National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). The Act lists numerous substances that are considered to be hazardous air pollutants. The EPA is required to develop an emission standard that is safe for individuals. A violation of a hazardous air pollutant standard or a work practice standard constitutes a NESHAP violation. If an individual knowingly commits a NESHAP violation, the individual may be charged with a felony for violating the Act. A conviction for violating the Act on this basis may result in a maximum of five years imprisonment. Moreover, if the individual release of a hazardous air pollutant results in placing another individual in imminent danger of serious injury, the convicted party may face a 15-year sentence. If a corporation knowingly releases a hazardous air pollutant that results in placing an individual in imminent danger of serious injury, the corporation may be assessed a fine of up to $1,000,000.

If the release of a hazardous air pollutant occurred due to negligence and an individual was placed in imminent danger, if convicted, the individual or corporation that released the pollutant may be sentenced to a maximum of one year imprisonment.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion Program

Under the Stratospheric Ozone Depletion Program, the manufacture and use of certain ozone-depleting chemicals compounds, known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), are completely prohibited. The importation of CFCs and HCFCs is prohibited under the Clean Air Act. If an individual or corporation knowingly brings either of those chemicals into the United States without a permit, a felony charge will result.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.