Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
Meet and Greet With Environmental Press
March 11, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Good afternoon. I am honored to be here today with Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Tim Burgess, United States Attorney from Alaska, to tell you about the Justice Department's tireless work to enforce America's environmental laws. The Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and the United States Attorneys' Offices nationwide are on the front lines ensuring that the air we breathe is clean, the water we drink is pure, and the majestic American landscape is safe and preserved for generations to come. The Environment Division is working hard, working together, and producing results.
Since the attacks of September 11, the overarching mission of the Justice Department has been the prevention of terrorism. Yet even as we have concentrated our efforts and energy upon identifying, disrupting, and dismantling terrorist networks, we have maintained a steady focus on our other crucial responsibilities. The enforcement of America's environmental laws have a distinct and vital role in the protection of the American homeland and the American people.
- For example, the timely, accurate, and honest reporting by industry officials of their treatment, storage, and transportation of hazardous waste and chemicals is more important than ever before.
- Our water systems, pipelines, chemical plants, and hazardous material transportation systems must be secure, operational, and functioning properly.
The Department enforces legal requirements that:
- protect drinking water supplies;
- mandate proper storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous wastes and chemical substances;
- call for facilities to develop emergency response plans; and
- assure that pipelines do not leak and explode.
These laws do more than just protect the health and safety of our citizens. Compliance with and enforcement of these laws makes a real difference in our level of national preparedness.
Under the outstanding leadership of Tom Sansonetti, the Justice Department has enforced vigorously America's environmental laws. All those who violate these laws are on notice: the Department of Justice will not hesitate to seek criminal sentences where appropriate.
Assistant Attorney General Sansonetti will tell you in greater detail of a number of the Division's significant successes. Today, I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline briefly the Environment and Natural Resources Division's three most significant priorities for civil environmental enforcement:
First, we will level the corporate playing field. Companies that violate environmental laws do more than just endanger public health and harm natural resources - they gain an unfair economic advantage over their law-abiding competitors. The Division will seek to recover any gains made by violators, and will ensure that violators pay a premium for failing to abide by federal laws.
Second, we will maintain the integrity of our nation's infrastructure. We will continue to enforce infractions involving pipeline integrity, leaky storage tanks, endangerment from chemical and manufacturing plants, and threats to public drinking water systems.
Third, we will conserve the Superfund. The Superfund provides funding for the cleanup of contaminated hazardous waste sites and for the reimbursement of cleanup costs by those responsible for the contamination. The Justice Department's recovery litigation returns money to the Superfund that helps to sustain the fund and in turn supports the cleanup of additional dangerous sites. The Department will place a renewed emphasis on recovering cleanup costs from violators to help ensure the continued availability of the Superfund.
One of my first tasks as Attorney General was to review existing enforcement actions under the Clean Air Act. This review, completed in January 2002, directed the Environment and Natural Resources Division to continue to prosecute alleged violations of the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act by the utility industry.
The Division has answered the call by forging ahead with those cases. In fact, it just completed its first trial in Ohio and has three more scheduled this year. These cases are part of a broad-based enforcement effort encompassing a number of industries and resulting in substantial gains for public health and the environment across the United States.
- In Fiscal Year 2001 and Fiscal Year 2002, ENRD ( Environment and Natural Resources Division) obtained approximately $7.95 billion dollars worth of environmental remediation, environmental controls, and environmental safeguards through vigorous enforcement of existing laws.
- The Division has obtained major settlements as part of its initiative to clean up air pollution from petroleum refineries. Building on previous successes, today Assistant Attorney General Sansonetti will announce another significant settlement.
- The Division has developed and implemented a strong criminal program. Among other accomplishments over the last year, the Division's criminal prosecutors, working closely with our U.S. Attorneys, have cracked down on fraud by environmental testing companies and shut down smuggling rings that bring in contraband ranging from endangered wildlife to ozone-destroying chemicals.
Preserving, restoring, and protecting the environment for future generations of Americans will continue to be a top priority of the Justice Department. We will not hesitate to prosecute those who break the law and endanger our land and our lives. I thank Tom Sansonetti for his leadership and I commend the Environment and Natural Resources Division for one of the most successful years ever in obtaining real, on-the-ground results in protecting the environment. Each and every day, your commitment makes a difference in the health of our citizens and the security of our nation, and I am grateful for your service.
Now, it is my pleasure to turn the podium over to Assistant Attorney General Tom Sansonetti.