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Mandatory Minimum Penalties: An Effective Tool for Enforcement of Clean Water Laws

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Thirty years after the passage of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), industrial pollution of our nation's waterways remains a serious threat to public health and the environment. This problem persists in large part because facilities continue to violate their CWA permits--dumping much more pollution into rivers, lakes, and sewage treatment systems than the law allows. And in many cases, these polluters are never held accountable. For this reason, new enforcement measures must be at the core of any strategy to preserve and protect our water resources. Mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) constitute an effective policy for achieving greater compliance with CWA permits. MMPs ensure that a specific set of permit violations are enforced automatically, by assessing penalties on the facilities that commit those violations. As documented in this report, MMPs in New Jersey and California have dramatically cut illegal water pollution in those states.