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United States v. Hamel

ELR Citation: 7 ELR 20253
Nos. No. 76-1478, 551 F.2d 107/9 ERC 1932/(6th Cir., 03/10/1977)

The government may properly prosecute willful discharge of gasoline under the criminal provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). Witnesses noticed defendant activating machinery that pumped 200-300 gallons of gasoline into Lake St. Clair, a navigable waterway. The evidence supports the jury conclusion that defendant acted intentionally. It was not improper for the prosecutor in his closing argument to emphasize §1321's criminal provisions for failure to notify the authorities of an oil spill and neglect the section's civil penalty provision. The government properly proceeded under the criminal enforcement provisions, §1319(c)(1), rather than under §1321 or the Rivers and Harbors Act §407, which provide civil and criminal penalties for oil and gas spillage. As shown in the legislative history, FWPCA's scope includes gasoline as a "pollutant," despite its not being specifically included in the definition of "pollutant." Negligent or willful discharge thereof subjects the discharger to criminal sanctions. Also, §1321's inclusion of gasoline as "oil" is not the sole expression of congressional intent on the subject. Moreover, the general rule that penal statutes should be strictly construed does not supersede the rule that water pollution legislation be given a generous construction. Finally, the government may choose the harsher §1319 rather than the more lenient provisions of §407 where Congress intended a more severe penalty for deliberate discharges.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Philip VanDam, U.S. Attorney
817 Federal Bldg., 231 Lafayette Blvd., Detroit MI 48226
(313) 226-7715

Peter R. Taft, Ass't Attorney General; Jacques B. Gelin; Kathryn A. Oberly
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-2756

Counsel for Defendant
Raymond A. Ballard, Robert N. Dunn
Foster, Meadows & Ballard
3266 Penobscot Bldg., Detroit MI 48226
(313) 961-3234

Before: PHILLIPS, Chief Judge; McCREE and ENGEL, Circuit Judges.