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Catastrophic incidents have the potential to provoke government action. In the words of former Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, “[y]ou never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” In the case of two major past environmental disasters, Congress did not let the opportunity for new environmental legislation to pass unrealized. In 1980, following the 1979 Love Canal incident, the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Similarly, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) following the 1989 Exxon Valdez environmental disaster. In 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon exploded and released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This event was one of the most catastrophic environmental events in U.S. history and yet, Congress has failed to pass sweeping environmental reform. Not only have the enormous environmental and economic impacts caused by the release put the OPA to the test, but the OPA has proven insufficient. Although Congress designed the OPA with tanker spills in mind, this Comment finds that, even for tanker spills, the OPA is flawed. Further, this Comment will suggest ways to improve the OPA and argues that Congress should act by increasing financial and criminal liability in order to prevent future spills. Part II of this Comment provides a brief history of water pollution in the United States and continues to discuss the Exxon Valdez disaster, the OPA, and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Part III argues that the OPA is inefficient because it only sufficiently focuses on medium sized tanker spills, leaving large spills at the mercy of the benevolence of the polluter while doing little to deter minor spills. Part IV discusses different ways to address the OPA’s inefficiencies and Part V concludes that Congress can reduce the occurrence of environmental disasters by extending liability to lenders, shareholders, and employees through the use of criminal liability.



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