The Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section Chief, Deborah Harris, recently discussed environmental crime enforcement during an American Bar Association virtual conference. Ms. Harris told attendees that government investigators are “going back to a little more stick than carrot.” EPA’s environmental investigators will focus on more vigorous criminal enforcement instead of merely evaluating corporate compliance efforts. OSHA inspectors will be trained by the DOJ to recognize potential environmental issues and increase coordination between EPA, other federal law enforcement agencies. These trainings and coordination efforts will enable investigations to include heightened scrutiny for potential environmental offenses.
The DOJ regards environmental justice as a top priority. Time will tell if that leads to additional criminal prosecutions. The evidentiary requirements for criminal environmental prosecutions can be quite low. To be criminally prosecuted for violating the Clean Water Act, one must only meet the negligence standard.
Businesses that are at risk of environmental problems should seek legal advice immediately. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC’s highly experienced lawyers routinely help clients navigate serious government investigations, including those with environmental crimes implications.