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UNITED STATES v. HOUGLAND BARGE LINE

December 20, 1974

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
HOUGLAND BARGE LINE, INC., Defendant


Rosenberg, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSENBERG

This matter is here before me on motion of the defendant, Hougland Barge Line, Inc. to dismiss the information filed against it by the United States of America under the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(5). The Government in its complaint and information charged the defendant, a Kentucky Corporation, as the person in charge of its vessel, while having knowledge of a discharge of oil from its vessel, with failure to notify the United States Coast Guard of the discharge in violation of § 1321(b)(5).

 The question before me calls for the interpretation of the term "person in charge" in the statute and its application to the defendant. The pertinent portion of the statute reads as follows:

 
"(5) Any person in charge of a vessel or of an onshore facility or an offshore facility shall, as soon as he has knowledge of any discharge of oil or a hazardous substance from such vessel or facility in violation of paragraph (3) of this subsection, immediately notify the appropriate agency of the United States Government of such discharge. Any such person who fails to notify immediately such agency of such discharge shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both."

 The defendant argues that a corporation is not includable in the term "person in charge" as such term is used in the pertinent section of the Act because first,

 
1. In the first sentence of the section, the word "he" is used rather than the word "it".
 
2. That the second sentence authorizes imprisonment of the "person in charge" and a corporate body cannot be imprisoned.
 
3. The last sentence authorizes immunity to the person in charge, except in cases of perjury or giving a false statement and such acts are acts of individuals rather than corporations.
 
4. That only an individual can be present at the time of a discharge of oil, whereas a corporation cannot be present.
 
5. "Since the courts disagree as to the interpretation of 'person in charge' the Act is vague and ambiguous and therefore unconstitutional."

 Congress, prior to enacting the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, set forth in Senate Report P.L. 92-500 a long history of pollution and the efforts to enlist the aid of the states in supporting measures for controlling the pollution of interstate waters having an adverse effect upon public health and welfare. After much detailed discussion it made its findings and recommended legislation in order to carry out certain objectives for standardizing federal and state controls.

 In re-affirming the objective contemplated by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Congress continued, "without a clearly set goal of natural water quality achieved through application of a no-discharge policy, it is not likely that resources will be applied to develop the means necessary to achieve an environmentally and ecologically sound water quality goal." United States Code Cong. & Admin. News (1972) at page 3678. "The objective of the Act is to restore and maintain the natural chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a).

 In its legislative proviso, it stated, "The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that there should be no discharges of oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States, adjoining shorelines, or into or upon the waters of the contiguous zone." 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(1).

 It thereafter provided definitions for various terms relating to "oil and hazardous substances liability" under subsection (a) of § 1321. In these definitions it included the word "person" as follows, "'person' includes an individual, firm, corporation, association, and a partnership". § 1321(a)(7). Following this definition under § ...


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