Harming the environment should be treated as a crime, the European Commission said Friday as it put forward a draft law that would punish serious offenses across the EU with up to five years in prison or a $975,000 fine.
The rules would also allow courts put a company out of business and order ungreen criminals to clean up the environment.
They would punish people and companies behind environmental disasters - such as the Dutch trader that chartered the ship blamed for dumping of illegal toxic waste in Ivory Coast last summer that killed 10, the EU executive said.
EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said corporations were behind 73 percent of crimes against the environment.
"It is not enough to punish and prosecute managers. It's very important also that corporations pay fines," he told reporters.
Dumping toxic substances, shipping hazardous waste or trading in endangered species can have "devastating effects on human health and the environment," the EU executive said.
"In serious cases, criminal sanctions such as prison sentences should be applied, as they have a much higher dissuasive effect than, for example, administrative sanctions," it said.
The EU's 27 nations currently have different standards for what a crime against the environment is and the Commission said many set "inadequate" punishments.
France, Italy, Malta and Cyprus will have the make the most changes to existing laws, said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
The draft rules will force governments to make sure that a list of environmental crimes - all already banned by national and EU law - are treated as criminal offenses.
They will cover releasing hazardous substances that pollute the air, water or soil; illegal shipments or treatment of waste; the unlawful trade in endangered species or ozone-depleting substances; and running a plant either involved in "dangerous activity" or storing dangerous substances.
Prison sentences or maximum fines should be reserved for serious breaches where people have been killed or seriously injured or in cases where there has been "substantial damage to air, soil, water, animals or plants," the EU said.
But the law will not cover oil spills. The EU says it will put forward a separate proposal to cover pollution from ships later this year.