Environmental Crimes in Michigan: Charges, Penalties & Defense

State of Michigan - environmental crimes

Have you ever wondered if you can get in trouble for something like littering? How about dumping hazardous waste?

Popular singer Dave Matthews is still apologizing for the famous 2004 incident. His tour bus driver illegally dumped 800 lbs. of raw sewage into the Chicago River. It ended up hitting an architectural tour boat full of people.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Matthews’ bus driver, Stefan Wohl, plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct and water pollution. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation, 150 hours of community service, and a $10,000 fine.

Most illegal dumpers are hoping not to make such a public spectacle. However, illegal dumping will land you in similar trouble.

Types of Environmental Crimes

According to Michigan’s 1994 Public Act 451, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, the following are types of environmental crimes.

Air Pollution

In Michigan, it is illegal to knowingly release into the ambient air a hazardous air pollutant into the air, contrary to law/permit. In addition, because of the quantities or concentrations, it is illegal if the release places another in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

This alone is a 2-year felony. It becomes a 6-year felony if it does result in bodily injury or death. Additionally, it is a 15-year felony if it is intended to cause bodily injury or death and does cause bodily injury or death.

Water Pollution

It is illegal to discharge contaminants into state waters. A person shall not directly or indirectly discharge into the waters of the state a substance that is or may become injurious to:

  1. Public health, safety or welfare;
  2. To domestic commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational or other uses that are or may be made of such waters;
  3. Value or utility of riparian rights;
  4. Animal/vegetable/ mineral or the value or potential value of same.

This is a 2-year felony. It will become 5 years if the court finds evidence that there is a substantial risk to public health.

It is also illegal to make a false statement in a certification or render inaccurate a monitoring device related to the monitoring of waste in the state’s water. This is also a 2-year felony.

The following are misdemeanors subject to fines of up to $2,500.

  • Failure to obtain a permit.
  • Altering the path of a floodplain or violating a condition of a floodplain permit.

Hazardous Waste

It is illegal to knowingly store, treat, transport or dispose of hazardous waste and at that time place another in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury and manifest unjustifiable and inexcusable disregard or extreme indifference for human life.

This is a 2-5 year felony. The other related crimes have to do with illegally operating a TSD facility without a valid permit or tampering with signs warning others of a potential hazard. They are all misdemeanors which can result in up to 1 year of jail time and fines.

Solid Waste

Yes, improper disposal of solid waste (trash) is a crime. It is a misdemeanor under Michigan law and can result in jail time if you don’t pay your fines right away.

You can’t dump solid waste onto someone else’s property or accept trash from someone else if you do not have the proper license to do so.

You can’t burn grass clippings and leaves unless local ordinances allow. In addition, you must transport any trash you are dumping at a licensed location in a proper vehicle and container to avoid littering.

Inland Lakes and Streams & Wetlands

It is illegal to dredge, fill, place a structure on, or otherwise tamper with lakes and wetlands in Michigan without proper permits. These are misdemeanors. You can be fined for up to $10,000 per day that you are found to be in violation of the law.


In conclusion, while some of these things – like dumping sewage in a river – probably won’t happen to the average person, it’s better to know what the law says about disposing of waste. This way, you won’t find yourself committing a misdemeanor without knowing it.

If you did willfully commit any of these environmental crimes and are facing charges, it’s important to call an experienced defense attorney.

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