The Law 17/05/95 no. 172 finally confirmed the Law Decree no. 79/1995. The decree is the last of a series of decrees which tried to reform the so-called "Merli" Law, i.e., Law no. 319 of 1976, which regulates the dumping of domestic and industrial water.

The reform was innovative in three main areas: the framework of sanctions, the relationship between the current system of checks on water discharges and the rules contained in the EC Directive no. 91/271, and finally the autonomous power of regions to fix limits which depart from the national parameters on the acceptability of discharges.

However, the reform of immediate interest to medium-sized and large industries in Italy, was the change to the framework of sanctions.

In brief, the post-reform regime is as follows: ignoring any regional limits of acceptability leads to a merely administrative sanction of a pecuniary nature. Exceeding limits imposed in the tables attached to the Merli Law and thereby breaching the national limits of acceptability continue to lead to a penal sanction, however, it is to be subject to plea bargaining.

The important change that the reform brought to the Merli Law is that, whereas previously, exceeding the limits set by the tables led to imprisonment without the alternative of a fine, now, however, it is possible for an entrepreneur under investigation for wrongly discharging water, to avoid proceedings by offering to make a payment by way of settlement out of court.

In this way, the person under investigation, avoids a public trial, the outcome of which may be uncertain, and avoids criminal sanctions.

The resultant extinction of proceedings against him is on the basis of a statement somewhat like an absolution, the exact wording of which is "not to proceed against the defendant due to the extinction of the crime of the result of an intervening plea bargain".

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