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Tenfold Penalty Increase Pending for ‘Nuisance’ Air Quality Violations

(June 18, 2013) A California Chamber of Commerce-opposed “job killer” bill that dramatically increases penalties for unspecified “nuisance” air quality violations is pending in the state Assembly.

SB 691 (Hancock; D-Berkeley) proposes a tenfold increase in existing strict-liability penalties for nuisance-based, non-vehicular air-quality violations without adequately defining what types and levels of pollution would trigger those penalties.

Among the groups that will be hurt by the new penalty ceiling are universities, public agencies, food processors, manufacturers and power producers.

Liability

Someone accused of creating a nuisance can be held liable even if the event was accidental or unintentional. An air district simply has to allege that several people have complained about an air emission, and the alleged violator would be subject to enormous liability.

Worse, the air district keeps the penalty money—a bounty incentive for high penalties.

Increasing the maximum penalty from $10,000 to $100,000 is a significant step that would impose a penalty based simply on allegations of annoyance, regardless of whether the emissions are harmful or in violation of an existing permit standard or requirement.

No Defenses

In addition, the alleged violator has virtually no defenses to a strict liability offense; the district has to prove only that a few people complained or were annoyed.

Although the proponents of SB 691 claim the bill is intended to apply only to “major events,” the bill does not define “major event” or establish any criteria for this enhanced penalty. As a result, this increase will have an impact on large industries and individual citizens.

Action Needed

SB 691 awaits assignment to a policy committee in the Assembly. The Cal- Chamber is asking members to contact their Assembly representatives to urge them to oppose SB 691.

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