San Diego News
- Written by SDNC
- Category: Latest News
- Published: 22 April 2014
Washington, DC - The Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) today released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Accomplishments Report, detailing its work alongside other federal agencies, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and state, local and tribal governments to enforce environmental and wildlife laws, protect our nation’s natural resources and ensure that all Americans enjoy clean air, water and land.
In the last fiscal year, the Justice Department continued carrying out its commitment to environmental justice to ensure the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental and natural resources laws and policies. The division’s work advancing the goals of environmental justice is illustrated in a separate chapter of the report.
“The Environment Division’s work to protect our air, land and water from pollution is as critical to our nation’s health, security, and sustainability as it has ever been,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. “As we face significant challenges from climate change, in developing alternative and sustainable sources of energy and addressing pollution to protect public health and the environment, we are grateful to the division and its attorneys for the work they do each day on behalf of the American people and future generations of Americans.”
“As this report shows, every day, the division works with client agencies, U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and state, local and tribal governments to enforce federal environmental, natural resources, and wildlife laws,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “It also defends federal agency actions and rules when they are challenged in the courts, keeping the nation’s air, water, and land free of pollution, promoting military preparedness and national security, and supporting responsible stewardship of America’s forests, wildlife and other natural resources. The division also handles a broad array of important matters affecting Indian tribes and their members. Across all this work, we strive to ensure that all Americans enjoy clean air, water and land, implementing the department’s deep commitment to environmental justice.”
In FY 2013, the division secured over $1.78 billion in civil and stipulated penalties, cost recoveries, natural resource damages and other civil monetary relief, including almost $637 million recovered for the Superfund. The division obtained almost $6.5 billion in corrective measures, through court orders and settlements, to protect the nation’s air, water and other natural resources. It concluded 53 criminal cases against 87 defendants, obtaining nearly 65 years in confinement and over $79 million in criminal fines, restitution, community service funds and special assessments. Finally, the handling of defensive and condemnation cases closed in fiscal year 2013 saved the United States an estimated $6.8 billion.
Among other highlights included in the FY 2013 Accomplishments report:
Accountability for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
The division’s top civil enforcement priority remains the ongoing civil litigation and trial stemming from the April 20, 2010 explosion and fire that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and triggered a massive oil spill. In December 2010, the United States brought a civil suit against BP, Anadarko, MOEX, and Transocean for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and a declaration of liability under the Oil Pollution Act, as part of multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Thus far, the department has secured over $1 billion in civil penalties through Deepwater Horizon settlements (with MOEX and Transocean), as well as far-reaching injunctive relief that should make Transocean’s deepwater drilling safer in the Gulf of Mexico.
The department tried the first phase of the U.S. case against the remaining defendants (addressing the cause of the disaster and liability) for nine weeks from February through April 2013, as part of a mass trial in which thousands of private plaintiffs also tried parts of their cases relating to liability and fault. The second phase of the U.S. case (principally addressing how much oil was discharged into the Gulf) took place over three weeks in September and October 2013. Both phases have been submitted to the district court for decision. The district court in New Orleans has scheduled the third phase of trial in this matter, addressing assessment of civil penalties, to begin in January 2015.
Addressing Climate Change
Over the past year, the division made important contributions to combating the effects of climate change. In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulations governing motor vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases took effect, triggering not only mobile source regulation, but also regulation of the largest stationary sources in accordance with EPA’s greenhouse gas tailoring rule. As of September 2012, the D.C. Circuit in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA upheld the agency’s greenhouse gas-related regulatory actions in their entirety. Challengers filed nine separate petitions for writs of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. In July 2013, the Department’s Office of the Solicitor General, working closely with Division and client agency attorneys, filed an opposition to the petitions for certiorari. On Oct. 15, 2013, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on six of the petitions, which were consolidated and limited to a single issue: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” The court denied the remaining three petitions, and rejected consideration of numerous additional issues raised by the petitions that were partially granted. In February 2014, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case.
In March 2013, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in In re Polar Bear Endangered Species Act Listing, thereby upholding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species throughout its range. The listing decision was based primarily on the polar bears’ dependence on arctic sea ice for their survival, existing and projected reductions in the extent and quality of sea ice habitat due to global climate change, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory measures to preserve the species.
In a settlement reached with the United States in September 2013, Safeway, the nation’s second largest grocery store chain, agreed to pay a $600,000 civil penalty and to implement a corporate-wide plan to significantly reduce its emissions of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment at over 650 of its stores nationwide, at an estimated cost of $4.1 million. The settlement resolves allegations that Safeway violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of HCFC-22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon that has a global warming potential that is 1,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This first-of-its-kind settlement should also serve as a model for comprehensive solutions across a company.
Combatting Wildlife Trafficking
The department has long been a leader in the fight against wildlife trafficking. Over the last year, the department engaged fully in the administration’s effort to combat wildlife trafficking through its role as one of the three agency co-chairs of the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, established by President Obama’s July 2013 Executive Order—Combating Wildlife Trafficking. In the past decade, wildlife trafficking has escalated into an international crisis, making it both a critical conservation concern and a threat to global security. Beyond decimating the world’s iconic species, this illegal trade threatens international security. Transnational criminal organizations, including some terrorist networks, armed insurgent groups and narcotics trafficking organizations, are increasingly drawn to wildlife trafficking due to the exorbitant proceeds from this illicit trade.
The task force emphasizes the need for a “whole of government” approach to combating this problem and identifies three key priority areas: (1) strengthening domestic and global enforcement; (2) reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife at home and abroad; and (3) strengthening partnerships with foreign governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, local communities, private industry, and others to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.
The division works with U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country and federal agency partners (such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to combat wildlife trafficking under the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, as well as statutes prohibiting smuggling, criminal conspiracy and related crimes. In fiscal year 2013, a prominent example of the division’s robust prosecution of illegal wildlife trafficking was “Operation Crash,” an ongoing multi-agency effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the illegal trafficking of endangered rhinoceros horns. This initiative has resulted in multiple convictions, significant jail time, penalties and asset forfeiture.
Read more about the Justice Department’s involvement in the fight to end wildlife trafficking: www.justice.gov/enrd/6329.htm