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Environmental Crimes

Criminal violations of the Department of Environmental Protection Rules under Florida Statute 403.161 are often called "environmental crimes." In addition to the criminal penalties that can be imposed, anyone who commits a violation of Florida Statute Section 403.161(1) is liable to the state for any damage caused and for civil penalties as provided in s. 403.141.

Many of these cases are investigated by agents with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) or detectives with the Environmental Enforcement Unit of the Homeland Security Division of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. 

Attorney for Environmental Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you are charged with a crime under Florida Statute 403.161 related to an environmental crime, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL. We represent clients throughout Hillsborough County, Hernando County, Pasco County, Manatee County and Polk County, FL. 

Call (813) 250-0500 today to discuss your case.


Penalties for Environmental Crimes in Florida

The Florida legislature intended that the civil penalties and criminal fines imposed by the court be of such amount as to ensure immediate and continued compliance with this section.


Crimes for Causing Pollution in Florida

Florida Statute Section 403.161(1)(a) prohibits a person from causing pollution, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, so as to harm or injure human health or welfare, animal, plant, or aquatic life or property. Any person who commits a violation specified in paragraph (1)(a) due to reckless indifference or gross careless disregard is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(4)(b) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by 60 days in jail, or by both, for each offense.

Any person who willfully commits a violation specified in paragraph (1)(a) is guilty of a felony of the third degree punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(3)(e) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $50,000 or by imprisonment for 5 years, or by both, for each offense. Each day during any portion of which such violation occurs constitutes a separate offense.


Failure to Obtain Permit

Florida Statute Section 403.161(1)(b) prohibits failing to obtain any permit required by this chapter or by rule or regulation, or to violate or fail to comply with any rule, regulation, order, permit, or certification adopted or issued by the department pursuant to its lawful authority. These crimes are charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(4)(a) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by 6 months in jail, or by both for each offense.


Making a False Statement

Florida Statute Section 403.161(1)(c) prohibits knowingly making any false statement, representation, or certification in any application, record, report, plan, or other document filed or required to be maintained under this chapter, or to falsify, tamper with, or knowingly render inaccurate any monitoring device or method required to be maintained under this chapter or by any permit, rule, regulation, or order issued under this chapter. 

Crimes for making a false statement regarding environmental regulations are charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(4)(a) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by 6 months in jail, or by both for each offense.

Any person who willfully commits a violation specified in paragraph (1)(b) or paragraph (1)(c) is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable as provided in ss. 775.082(4)(a) and 775.083(1)(g) by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by 6 months in jail, or by both for each offense.


Failing to Report the Release of a Hazardous Substance 

Florida Statute Section 403.161(4) prohibits a person from owning or operating a facility to fail to report to the representative of the department, as established by department rule, within one working day of discovery of a release of hazardous substances from the facility if the owner or operator is required to report the release to the United States Environmental Protection Agency in accordance with 42 U.S.C. s. 9603.


When is Open Burning Allowed in Florida?

Under Section 62-256.700, open burning is allowed for yard waste provided:

  1. The yard waste was generated on residential premises of not more than two family units;
  2. The open burning is conducted on the premises where the material was generated;
  3. The fire is ignited after 8:00 a.m. Central time or 9:00 a.m. Eastern time and extinguished no later than one hour before sunset, provided however that no burning shall be conducted during windy conditions;
  4. The fire is enclosed in a noncombustible container or is restricted to a pile no greater than eight feet in diameter built upon ground cleared of all combustible material;
  5. The fire is set back at least 25 feet from any wildlands, brush, or combustible structure, 50 feet from any paved public roadway, and 150 feet from any occupied building other than that owned or leased by the individual doing the burning;
  6. The fire is attended and adequate fire extinguishing equipment is readily available at all times; and
  7. The moisture content and composition of material to be burned is favorable to good burning which will minimize smoke. 

Except as provided above and at subsections 62-256.700(8) and (9), F.A.C., any other open burning of yard waste is allowed only if such burning is conducted using a Department-permitted air curtain incinerator operated in compliance with the provisions of Rule 62-296.401, F.A.C., and any other terms of the unit’s air permit. 


Open Burning of Tree Cutting Debris

Open burning of tree cutting debris is allowed provided:

  1. The tree cutting debris was generated on residential premises of not more than two family units;
  2. The open burning is restricted to the site where the tree cutting debris was generated;
  3. The fire is ignited after 8:00 a.m. Central time or 9:00 a.m. Eastern time and shall have no visible flame one hour before sunset or anytime thereafter, except in smoke sensitive areas as determined by the Florida ForestService, where the fire must be extinguished no later than one hour before sunset;
  4. The fire is attended, and adequate fire extinguishing equipment is readily available at all times;
  5. The moisture content and composition of material to be burned is favorable to good burning which will minimize smoke; and
  6. Prior to conducting the open burning, the person responsible for the burn contacts the Florida Forest Service regarding the planned burning activity.

Except as provided above and at subsections 62-256.700(8) and (9), F.A.C., any other open burning of tree cutting debris shall be conducted using a Department-permitted air curtain incinerator operated in compliance with the provisions of Rule 62-296.401, F.A.C., and any other terms of the unit’s air permit.


Open Burning of Land Clearing Debris

Open burning of land clearing debris is allowed provided:

  1. The open burning is restricted to the site where the land clearing debris was generated;
  2. The fire is ignited after 8:00 a.m. Central time or 9:00 a.m. Eastern time and shall have no visible flame one hour before sunset or anytime thereafter, except in smoke sensitive areas as determined by the Florida ForestService, where the fire must be extinguished no later than one hour before sunset;
  3. The fire is attended, and adequate fire extinguishing equipment is readily available at all times;
  4. The moisture content and composition of material to be burned is favorable to good burning which will minimize smoke; and
  5. Prior to conducting the open burning, the person responsible for the burn contacts the Florida Forest Service regarding the planned burning activity.(b) Except as provided above, any other open burning of land clearing debris shall be conducted using an air curtain incinerator operated in compliance with the terms of the exemption from air permitting at Rule 62-210.300,F.A.C., if such exemption applies, or if such exemption does not apply, in compliance with the provisions of Rule62-296.401, F.A.C., and any other terms of the unit’s air permit. 

Open Burning for the Training of Firefighters

Except as provided in paragraph 62-256.700(4)(b), F.A.C., open burning is allowed for the instruction and training of organized firefighters or industrial employees under the supervision of the appropriate public fire control official provided that all such burning is conducted at a fire training center certified by the Department of FinancialServices, Division of State Fire Marshal, and does not involve the burning of any asbestos-containing materials,mercury-containing devices, or hazardous waste.

A structure not on the premises of a certified fire training center may be burned for the instruction and training of organized firefighters provided the following conditions are met.


Additional Resources

Florida Statutes for Environmental Crimes- Visit the website of the Florida Department of Environmental Protect (DEP) to find rules and forms. Environmental Control rules are covered in Chapter 403 which provides the legal authority for most of the activities of the air resource management program within the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement is responsible for environmental resource law enforcement in Florida, as well as providing law enforcement services to Florida’s state parks and greenways and trails. Personnel with the DEP investigate environmental resource crimes.

Prohibitions on Open Burning under 62-256.300 - Under Section 62-256.200(10), the term “open burning” means the burning of any matter in such a manner that the products of combustion resulting from the burning are emitted directly into the outdoor atmosphere without passing through a stack or chimney.


Finding an Attorney for Environmental Crimes in Tampa, FL

Section 403.161 penalizes the willful violation of any administrative rule, regulation or permit condition created for the purpose of preventing and controlling pollution. If you are charged with a violation of Section 403.161 then be aware that these crimes come with harsh penalties.

We represent clients charged with illegally storing waste at an unpermitted facility under Florida Statute 403.413(4)(a), Florida Litter Law (for commercial purposes), and under Florida Statute 403.161(1)(b), Failure to Obtain Permit. Call an attorney experienced in representing individuals and business owners charged with environmental crimes in Tampa, Hillsborough County and throughout the greater Tampa Bay area. 

Call (813) 250-0500 today.


This article was last updated on Friday, February 10, 2017.