Senator Eyes Prison, Compensation for Environmental Crimes

June 10, 2010

Reacting to BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a high-ranking U.S. senator Wednesday sought to toughen prison sentences for corporate officials who are found guilty of environmental crimes and to broaden fines for violations.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, introduced legislation that he said would result in “well-reasoned (prison) sentences and mandatory restitution for environmental crime.”

Under the bill, an existing sentencing commission would be directed to toughen prison-term guidelines for environmental crimes to reflect the seriousness of those crimes. The legislation itself does not spell out the prison terms.

The legislation also “clarifies some gaps” in current law, according to a Leahy aide. For example, the bill would make it easier for victims of oil spills and other environmental disasters to be compensated for their losses.

The legislation would mandate restitution for criminal violations of the Clean Water Act. Currently, such restitution is discretionary.

“The ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the April 20 explosion on a British Petroleum oil rig has brought a renewed focus on ensuring corporate accountability for recovery costs and for restitution for those affected by such natural disasters,” Leahy said.

It was unclear whether Leahy’s legislation will attract the support of Republicans. A spokesman for Senator Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the Judiciary panel, was not immediately available for comment.

Earlier this week, Leahy also introduced a bill to permit families of victims killed in offshore incidents to seek non-economic damages. The BP PLc disaster resulted in the deaths of 11 oil rig workers.

Since April 20, oil from a damaged BP deep-water well has been flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, with some of it fouling southern U.S. coastlines. Government scientists have estimated the leak is putting as much as 25,000 barrels of oil into the water a day.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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