Washington Law Review


In response to massive oil spills that damaged America’s waters, devastated local economies, killed wildlife, and cost taxpayers millions in clean-up costs, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Act amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to allow for criminal prosecution of negligent oil discharges. This Comment argues that although the plain language of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act’s negligent discharge provision is silent regarding corporate vicarious criminal liability, courts should give full effect to Congress’s intent—to protect the health and safety of the public and the environment and to stop corporations from accepting oils spills as just another cost of doing business—and construe the negligent discharge provision to allow for vicarious liability. Doing so will not violate the due process rights of corporations because they are on notice of the stringent regulations surrounding oil pollution. Moreover, corporations are in the best position to prevent and deter negligent employee behavior that leads to oils spills in the first place.

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