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United States v. Texas Pipe Line Co.

Citation: 10 ELR 20184
No. No. 78-1398, 611 F.2d 345/14 ERC 1120/(10th Cir., 12/21/1979)

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the assessment against appellant under § 311 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of a $2,500 civil penalty for the discharge of 600 gallons of oil into a small creek. That the creek into which the oil was discharged was not capable of supporting navigation is not a defense to the penalty. Congress intended the words "navigable waters of the United States" to be interpreted as broadly as possible under the Commerce Clause; navigable waters encompass streams such as the one in question, which on at least some occasions flows into a major river. Nor is it relevant that the spill was not due to culpable conduct by the appellant nor that appellant took great pains to clean up the spill promptly. The Coast Guard had some basis for concluding that the spill was a relatively large one and that the company could well afford the penalty, factors that must be considered under the statute. The assessment of a $2,500 penalty was within the authority of the agency and is affirmed. A separate opinion agrees that the creek into which the oil was spilled constitutes a "navigable water of the United States" but would remand the case for greater elaboration by the Coast Guard as to the basis for the size of the penalty.

Counsel for Appellant
Jack M. Short
Legal Dep't, Texaco, Inc.
P.O. Box 2420, Tulsa OK 74102
(918) 743-5311

Counsel for Appellee
John R. Osgood, Ass't U.S. Attorney; Julian K. Fite, U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 1009, Muskogee OK 74401
(918) 683-3111

Before BARRETT, McKAY and LOGAN, Circuit Judges.