NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Laws Clash With Civil Liberties

November 24, 1995

The environmental movement has spawned a host of laws and regulations which jeopardize the liberties of business people and ordinary citizens.

Consider the following:

  • Many of the laws and regulations carry stiff criminal penalties, including jail time.
  • Despite the complexity and, in many cases, the obscurity of the laws, it does not matter if a "perpetrator" knew he was breaking the law in order to be convicted.
  • And it doesn't matter if a law was broken on purpose or accidentally.
  • A survey of 200 corporate lawyers revealed that 70 percent didn't believe their firms could ever achieve total compliance with environmental laws.
  • Although the Environmental Protection Agency set up a hotline to answer questions about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, it does not guarantee that its answers will be correct.
  • Furthermore, reliance on wrong EPA answers is no defense at trial.

Those prosecuted under environmental laws often do not get the same sort of legal protections other criminal defendants have.

  • If an ordinary criminal statute is vague, the defendant usually gets the benefit of the doubt -- but not in environmental cases, where the government is granted the benefit of the doubt.
  • In ordinary criminal cases, it must be proved the defendant intended to violate the law -- but no such legal safeguard is granted those indicted under environmental statutes.

In other words, the law protects the rights of ordinary criminals, but it is on the side of the government if a businessman is accused of violating -- even in some small way -- an obscure environmental regulation.

Source: Charles Oliver, "A Green War on Civil Liberties?" Investor's Business Daily, November 24, 1995.


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