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Environmental Crime

Did you know that polluting our environment can be a crime?

Environmental News and Tips That Help You Take Care of Texas
From the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 

During the past decade, Texans have enjoyed a booming economy and many parts of the state have seen a sharp increase in population. With that growth comes added pressures on the environment.

Many of the things that Texans have done for generations, such as dumping their trash at un-permitted locations, throwing away old car batteries, and dumping used motor oil behind the garage, are crimes that can carry a fine and even a jail sentence. Although these acts have always been harmful to the environment and many have been crimes for a very long time, they were not considered serious crimes in the past.

However, we now have a greater understanding of the extent and duration of the harm these activities have on the environment. This greater understanding, along with the increase in the population and the number of people engaging in these types of activities, has made it necessary to aggressively investigate and prosecute these types of environmental crimes.

Common crimes committed by everyday citizens include intentionally dumping used oil, dumping litter and trash, and discarding lead-acid “car” batteries.

Used Motor Oil

The crime: Intentionally dumping used motor oil.

The punishment: A fine between 1,000 and $50,000 and up to five years of imprisonment for each day the violation has occurred.

The reason: One reason the punishment is so high is that just one quart of used motor oil can contaminate a quarter million gallons of water.

Most people agree that pouring used motor oil into the local water supply would be a destructive act. Yet, many people still think there is nothing wrong with dumping dirty motor oil in a ditch or a weedy patch behind their garage. However, rain creates runoff from virtually any place used motor oil might be dumped and contaminated runoff is one of the greatest causes of water pollution today.

Unfortunately, most people who do not recycle used motor oil get rid of it by pouring it down drains and sewers, dumping it on the ground, or putting it in trash cans. All of these methods are illegal.

The solution: For people who change their own motor oil, the only legal way to dispose of the dirty oil is to place it in a clean, leak-proof container with a tight lid, such as an empty milk jug. It should never be mixed with antifreeze, solvents, bleach, or other substances. The used oil should then be taken to a registered collection center. Most quick lube service centers, such a Jiffy Lube, Quick Lube, Wal-mart Tire and Lube Express, and Auto Zone, accept used motor oil for recycling.

To obtain the location of the nearest used oil collection center, Recycling, or for more information, call 1-800-CLEANUP.

Litter and Trash

The crime: Dumping litter and trash at an un-permitted location.

The punishment: For dumping, a fine between $200 and $4,000 dollars depending on the amount and type of waste dumped, a potential jail sentence of up to one year in jail, and the possible loss of the vehicle used during the violation. Also, property owners may have to pay for getting their property cleaned up because they allowed someone to dump on their property.

The reason: Litter and illegally dumped garbage are public health hazards. Children playing around illegally dumped litter can get hurt by broken glass, exposed metal, and other dangerous materials. Rats, snakes, mosquitoes, and other pests can live in garbage and transmit diseases to humans. Rotting food attracts flies, which carry germs that can make people sick. Harmful chemicals and other materials that are dumped can contaminate our water.

Litter and trash dumping are also public safety problems. Dumping in drainage ditches can cause flooding because if the ditches are full of garbage or other material” water cannot flow properly.

Illegal dumping costs money. When a county worker cleans up litter and illegal dumps, tax dollars are spent to clean it up and cannot be used for other needs.

Illegal dumping is ugly. When one person dumps litter or trash, others follow. Garbage builds up until someone cleans it up, often at a cost passed down to citizens.

The solution: Find out what choices there are to get rid of garbage legally. Talk to local government officials about creating options if there are none.

Reduce the amount of garbage produced by buying brands with less packaging. Buy products in bulk quantities or buy refills. When there is less packaging, there is less garbage. Instead of disposable products, buy things that can be washed and reused. Find other uses for things instead of throwing them away.

Many communities now have recycling centers. Call community leaders to find out about such recycling options, or to support a center if one does not exist.

Lead-Acid Batteries

The crime: Knowingly disposing of or discarding a lead-acid or “car” battery anywhere except at an authorized collection or recycling center.

The punishment: Up to a $4,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Each day and each battery is considered a separate offense.

The reason: Lead is a strong poison. Too much lead in the body can damage the brain and nervous system, blood, kidneys, the digestive system, and the reproductive system.

In 1985, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared lead-acid batteries a hazardous waste. Hazardous wastes require special disposal. Routinely discarding batteries into our municipal landfills is a problem throughout the country, because about 75 percent of Americans who change their own car batteries throw them away.

The solution: Texas enacted a law in 1992 that made it illegal to dispose of a lead-acid battery in any manner other than through a battery dealer or approved collection or recycling center. This legislation also mandates that when citizens buy new automotive batteries at an auto parts store, gas station, or repair shop, the dealer is required to accept the old one. These used batteries are then sold to companies that recycle the batteries in large volumes.

For more information concerning used lead-acid batteries, please call 1-800-CLEAN-UP.

Reporting Environmental Crimes

To report an environmental crime, please call:
TCEQ Environmental Violations HotLine
1-888-777-3186    or

TCEQ Special Investigations Section

There are other environmental crimes besides those discussed above. Some of the most common is the dumping of barrels of wastes and the dumping of septic waste. For anyone coming across such wastes, safety is a major consideration. For instance, barrels with some wastes could explode if kicked or tipped. Always stay upwind of and preferably 50 feet away from dumped barrels. Never approach a fire or a spill. Keep others away from the area and contact the local fire department.

Additional information on environmental crime enforcement is available on the TCEQ Web site.

Texas Law

Texas faces diverse environmental problems, including polluted air in the state’s major urban areas, contaminated surface and drinking water, degradation of coastal areas and critical wildlife habitats, and solid waste disposal needs. In response, the Texas Legislature enacted legislation in the early 1990s that created additional criminal penalties for violations of the state’s environmental laws and regulations.

In addition to these new laws, the governor signed an executive order creating the Texas Environmental Enforcement Task Force. The task force is composed of staff from the different federal, state, and local agencies involved in enforcing Texas’ environmental protection laws and regulations. The goal of the task force is to coordinate federal and state efforts in the investigation and prosecution of criminal violations of state and federal environmental laws. As a result of these measures, Texas now sets the standard for the nation on the investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes.

Midland County 

Environmental Enforcement Unit Midland County

To file a complaint: Complaint Form