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Proposed Illinois House Bill Could Result in Significant New Penalties for Illinois Businesses

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

A proposed bill pending before the Illinois House of Representatives' Environmental and Energy Committee seeks to amend Illinois' Environmental Protection Act (the "Act") to allow municipalities to impose significant penalties against any person or organization owning or leasing property where there has been a release of a hazardous substance or any other contaminant that the municipality (or other unit of local government) finds to be injurious to public health or the safety of the community.  House Bill 1441, which was proposed by Representative Frank Mautino (D-76th Dist.), seeks to amend the Act to allow for the imposition of penalties of up to $50,000 per violation and $10,000 for each day of continuing violation where there has been a release of a hazardous substance (or other contaminant) that the municipality (or unit of local government) deems harmful to public health or safety.  The bill, as currently drafted, allows the municipality to designate, in its sole discretion, when there has been a release of a contaminant that injures the public health or safety such that the penalty provisions are triggered.

Concerns have been raised that the bill as currently drafted is vague, unclear and undefined.  The bill allows municipalities to determine not only what constitutes a "contaminant" but also what constitutes sufficient "injury to public health or safety" to trigger the imposition of significant civil penalties.  For example, a municipality could determine that greenhouse gas emissions from a power plant constitute a contaminant which is injurious to the public health, and therefore, trigger the penalty provisions of the bill.  Providing such unfettered discretion to municipalities could result in a patchwork of local ordinances with different definitions of what constitutes an injury to public health and safety.  We will continue to track this bill as it works through the Illinois legislature.  Please click here for the text of House Bill 1441.