Department of Justice Seal
Remarks of Deputy Attorney General
Larry D. Thompson
Environment and Natural Resources
Awards Ceremony
June 19, 2001

Thank you for the opportunity to be with all of you here today to celebrate the accomplishments of the environment and natural resources division. I know both from my experience as a united states attorney and from my time in private practice that the division does impressive work, so I'm particularly glad to be here to honor your accomplishments.

As a former united states attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, I especially want to welcome our colleagues from united states attorneys' offices around the country who are being honored here today. You are essential to the department and the division's work, and it's great to have you here.

I also want to give a warm welcome to those of you from our client agencies and state agencies who are here today. When we work together, we show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I extend my congratulations and gratitude to each of you for a job well done.

Your work is important to all Americans. Everyone wants clean air, safe drinking water and healthy communities for their children to grow up in. Your efforts, day in and day out, help us to achieve these goals.

You have accomplished a lot of great things – cleaner air, water, and soil, and protection of habitat for wildlife and fish, wetlands, and important indian rights. You've defended federal agencies in courts all over the country and acquired land for important public purposes, such as protection of the everglades. You've also won record-breaking penalties and fines.

Your work is also important to the department. In this regard, I want to echo and reaffirm the attorney general's recent statements in which he said that "protection of our natural resources through strong enforcement of environmental law is a top priority for the department of justice," and that he "look[s] forward to continuing [the] fight for cleaner air and water."

One of the many examples of your work in this area that is being honored here today involves the Montrose case in California, for which a lot of you are getting awards. For those of you who won't be getting awards for Montrose, this case involved DDT contamination in the ocean just off of Los Angeles. Along with the state of California, the division brought a Cercla action in 1990 to get this site cleaned up, and thanks to the years of effort and the hard work of people here today, that's going to happen. The companies that are responsible for the offshore contamination have agreed to pay $73 million to clean it up. Approximately $30 million from the settlement will be spent to restore natural resources, the largest sum ever paid for environmental injuries resulting from pollution other than oil.

Montrose is a good example of how we can get great results when we work together with our friends in the states who enforce the environmental laws.

Another great example of cooperation being honored today is the Oderbrecht-metric team. This team, made up of people from the environmental crimes section, U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Florida, the FBI, the Department of Transportation, EPA, the Coast Guard, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, prosecuted a construction company for dumping tons of construction material into Pensacola bay in spite of its promises to protect the bay's aquatic environment. The team obtained $4 million in fines and restitution, as well as convictions of the responsible supervisors from the company.

As the program for today's ceremony shows, Montrose and Oderbrecht-metric are just two examples of the great enforcement work that you do and I congratulate all of you for your important work in this area.

But I also want to take a moment to single out for praise those of you who have a job that rivals enforcement work in its complexity and challenges – the task of defending federal agencies when they are sued. Again, from my time as U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, I know that defensive work is an important part of the department's docket and that it isn't always as glamorous as the enforcement work. Well, glamorous or not, it's still critical and I thank you on behalf of the department for doing it so well. The American people are fortunate to have so many dedicated people working for them.

Before I close, there is one last group that I want to offer special thanks to – the people behind the scenes who help the lawyers look good in court. I'm talking about the people who stay late to assemble the filings, to send out the fed ex packages, to proofread and cite check the documents; the people who set up the travel, who make sure that reimbursements are processed and that a thousand other details get taken care of. I'm talking about the support staff and the people in the executive office. Thank you for doing your job so the attorneys can focus on theirs.

All of you have worked hard to serve the Justice Department and the American people. Through your wisdom, experience and tireless efforts, you protect our environment, you safeguard the rights of native Americans, and provide justice for all. As your accomplishments in so many areas have proven, when we work together, we can make a world of difference -- a world in which everyone can continue to have a special place where they go to hike, to fish, or just to relax, and where our children can enjoy this beautiful land.

Thanks again to all of you and congratulations on your awards.