The Clean Water Act is aimed at curtailing pollution of America’s waterways. The regulations related to the Act can be onerous for businesses but failing to abide by them can lead to significant penalties that could shake the viability of your business. It could even lead to more severe action that could force your business to close.
How are Clean Water Act violations punished?
Under the Clean Water Act, federal regulators can fine you up to $16,000 per day per violation. Although those penalties can’t exceed $187,500 in any one enforcement action, that doesn’t mean that the damage is stopped there. This is because your business could still be subjected to civil actions and injunctive relief. This could force you to shut down operations or face an even larger civil judgment that is financial in nature. In some instances, egregious violations of the Clean Water Act can lead to criminal charges. Remember, too, that the penalties mentioned above or for each violation. So, if federal regulators find that you’ve violated a number of the Acts provisions, then the penalties can be exponentially higher.
How can you prevent Clean Water Act violations?
The best way to avoid Clean Water Act violations is to be proactive. You need to understand the law, which starts with knowing the limitations that are placed on your National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. This permit specifies what your business is allowed to discharge into navigable waterways and any limits on those pollutants. Your NPDES permit should also specify how you should monitor the pollution that you release.
Keep in mind, too, that even though you’ll be required to monitor your wastewater, federal regulators will also conduct routine inspections of your waste disposal systems and perform audits to determine if your release levels are appropriate in light of the limits of your NPDES permit. Therefore, you need to ensure that your risk mitigation practices are consistently applied.
How can you defend against alleged violations?
If you’re accused of violating the terms of your NPDES permit and thereby the Clean Water Act, then you need to be prepared to defend yourself as aggressively as possible. There may be a number of ways to do this, including each of the following:
- Have your wastewater tested by your own independent expert who can give a clearer interpretation than federal regulators
- Consider whether the waste in question is really stemming from a point source as defined by federal statute
- Question whether the effluent is flowing into navigable waters as defined by applicable federal laws
- Gather documentation that demonstrates that you’ve been in compliance with testing and monitoring requirements
Know how to navigate the facts of your case
The Clean Water Act is immensely complicated, and as such it has been subjected to extensive litigation. This means that the law surrounding the Clean Water Act is constantly changing. Therefore, you shouldn’t try to address alleged violations of this law without first gaining a firm understanding of the law and how it applies to your set of circumstances.
Once you’ve acquired that knowledge base, then you can start to consider your best course of action. This may include negotiating with federal investigators to come to a fair outcome that saves you time and money, or aggressively litigating your case in court in hopes of avoiding liability altogether. We know that this can be a stressful process, which is why we encourage you to discuss the unique circumstances of your case with an environmental law attorney who is experienced and has a track record of success in this area of the law.