The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 often is considered the first environmental criminal statute because it contains strict liability provisions that make it a misdemeanor to discharge refuse into navigable waters of the United States without a permit. When Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Act, however, it was far more concerned with preventing interference with interstate commerce than environmental protection. For practical purposes, the environmental crimes program in the United States dates to the development of the modem environmental regulatory system during the 1970s, and amendments to the environmental laws during the 1980s, which upgraded criminal violations of the environmental laws from misdemeanors to felonies.
Uhlmann, David M. "Environmental Crime Comes of Age: The Evolution of Criminal Enforcement in the Environmental Regulatory Scheme." Utah L. Rev. 2009, no. 4 (2009): 1223-52.