The European Commission proposed a directive Friday that companies and individuals responsible for environmental disasters should face criminal charges. The proposal also sets minimum sanctions for environmental crimes across Member States.
“The recent hazardous waste disaster in the Ivory Coast shows how environmental crimes can have devastating effects on people and the environment,” Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said. “It also underlines once again how urgent it is to improve the way environmental legislation is enforced in order to avoid such incidents.”
Key elements of the proposal include a definition of environmental crimes and a minimum level of protection of the environment under criminal law throughout the EU, as well as a requirement that Member States be required to treat already prohibited environmental EU activities as criminal offenses. Punishment for an offense can result in five years in prison and fines of at least $975,000. These cases would include crimes that have resulted in death or serious injury of a person or a substantial damage to air, soil, water, animals or plants or when the offense has been committed by a criminal organization.
Additionally, the directive provides for alternative sanctions, such as the obligation to clean up the environment or the possibility of stopping businesses from operating.