This paper discusses those particular statutory criteria that determine whether a civil penalty will be assessed by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) for an alleged discharge of oil or a hazardous substance. Under Section 311(b) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), as amended, the USCG is responsible for assessing a monetary civil penalty when a prohibited quantity of oil/has been discharged into jurisdictional waters. Since 1970, there have been significant statutory, regulatory, and policy changes that have affected the exercise of this USCG responsibility. These changes are explained in such a way that the reader may determine the present state of this particular enforcement program, as viewed by the USCG and the courts.

The principal inquiries addressed in this paper are:

  1. Has there been a violation?

  2. Is a particular party liable to the assessment of a civil penalty?

  3. What factors affect the size of the penalty that may be assessed?

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

* The views in this paper are those of the author.