This essay will set forth the relevant portions of the MPRSA as it applies to ocean disposals of dredged materials and present a case from California where the MPRSA mandated civil penalties for a commercial dredging company.
As an initial matter, the primary purpose of the MPRSA is to prevent the disposal of any materials in the ocean, within American jurisdiction, unless that disposal has previously been authorized by a permit granted by the United States Army Corps of engineers with the subsequent approval of the EPA (MPRSA section 101(a); 33 United States Code section 1411). A permit, however, is not easy to obtain; more importantly, as stated by the governing statute and administrative regulations, violating the terms of an otherwise legal permit is also unlawful and will result in civil liability. As a general rule, a permit may be obtained only when the ocean dumping does not "unreasonable degrade or endanger human health, welfare or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems or economic potentialities" (MPRSA section 102; United States Code section 1412). ...
In short, the disposal of dredged materials in the ocean is prohibited, a permit application does exist, and there are very strict requirements for a permit to be approved.
The MPRSA is enforced through section 105(a), which authorizes the EPA to assess a civil penalty not exceeding $50,000 per day for any violation. These violations may derive from disposals without a permit or disposals which fall outside the terms of an authorized permit. This civil penalty, however, is not absolutely required by the terms of the statute or by the supporting federal regulations. Instead, once a violation is determined, the EPA is granted wide latitude in determining the amount of the penalty to assess. The EPA should consider the seriousness of the violation, whether there is a prior history of similar violations, and whether there was a good faith attempt to remedy the non-compliance (MPRSA section 105(a); 33 United States Code section 1415(a)).
In summary the MPRSA and the related federal regulations are designed to protect American waters from certain types of ocean disposals which might harm human welfare, the environment, or economic interests. The civil penalties are quite severe, though the EPA is vested with the discretion to lessen the civil liabilities on showings of good faith or mistakes without serious consequences.
1.2 Application: In the Matter of Port of Oakland
The application of this statute was considered in a case in California. In this case, Oakland Inner Harbor had a navigational channel. Congress enacted legislation authorizing the city of Oakland to deepen and expand the navigational channel in order to better accommodate supercontainer ships for commerce. The city of Oakland thereafter hired a