Remarks* of Deputy Attorney General
Larry Thompson to
ALI-ABA Course on Criminal Enforcement of Environmental Laws
What Can Be Expected From The New Administration?
Thursday, November 8, 2001
9:00 A.m. - 10:00 A.m.
Thank you for that kind introduction. it's a pleasure to be here this morning. I recognize a number of you from when I spoke on a panel here in 1998, and I know from looking at the lineup of speakers today that this is going to be another great course. You are going to hear from two of my predecessors in office, every Chief of our Environmental Crimes Section, and a "Who's Who" of the federal environmental criminal bar, so this will be a terrific opportunity to learn about the hot issues in the field. I'm also glad to see that you'll be talking about vessel pollution, which is a focus of our enforcement efforts.
In my remarks this morning, I will be talking about what you can expect from the department in terms of criminal enforcement of the environmental laws. Before I do that however, I will talk about how those laws fit into the larger issues facing our nation today.
OUR RESPONSE TO SEPTEMBER 11
Since September 11, I have heard from a number of people about the difficulty we all have experienced getting back to what we once called "normal." We can find no acceptable "routine," it seems, while memories of the terrible events of September 11 remain clear.
In spite of this, however, I have noticed something remarkably normal in our common reaction to this great tragedy; I'm sure you've noticed, too. It's spirit - that American spirit that's so difficult to define but so easy to recognize when things get tough.
We saw this spirit in the response of the police and fire departments and emergency medical teams at the crash sites in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. We see it in the outpouring of help in money and material donations, in the long lines of blood donors, in the many, many community volunteer initiatives to coordinate relief for victims of the attacks. I have experienced this personally in the many, many phone calls and e-mails I've received from those of you in private practice asking what you could do in helping to address the events of September 11.
We recognize this as a normal American response to any abnormal event - we get together and help the victims, we reach out to fellow Americans and hold our liberties closer. I can tell you I've seen this spirit up close in the Department. It's in the extraordinary dedication of countless law enforcement officers, attorneys, analysts, technical support specialists, and other operational and administrative staff who are working beyond fatigue on unprecedented matters of investigation, fact-finding, and reporting. So many people have taken on extra work without flinching, have arrived at their desks earlier every day and left later every evening, and have performed admirably in dealing with matters of great sensitivity and urgency.
The United States will prevail against the terrorists and remain strong in defense of freedom-loving people around the world: It's our nature. It's our spirit. It's our dedication. It's our commitment. In short, it is our legacy.
How September 11 Transformed DOJ
Nevertheless, it's obvious to everyone in this room that the events of September 11 constitute a watershed in the history of the United States.
How we as a nation and a government think about our vulnerabilities to a terrorist attack is forever changed.
The collective effort we now put into strengthening our domestic security is of a magnitude and intensity that would have been unthinkable before September 11.
It needs to be because the enormity of the potential risk to civilian lives on American soil is unprecedented.
In fact, the events of September 11 have had a transforming effect on the Department of Justice.
To be sure, the Department continues to investigate the crimes committed on September 11, and to evaluate what prosecutorial action may be appropriate with respect to anyone involved with those crimes - or the potential commission of future acts.
But the overriding imperative of the Department - and of the President - is to disrupt and prevent the occurrence of further terrorist attacks.
We Cannot Ignore Other Criminal Conduct
But, in our fight against terrorism, we cannot ignore other criminal conduct. Some of the conduct that gives rise to criminal conduct is one arena turns out sometimes to be directly or even indirectly related to our fight against terrorism.
For example, since September 11, a great deal of my time has been devoted to the issue of homeland security and how to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. One of the things that has become clear to me is that it is not just our air transportation system that is subject to terrorist attack. Our water systems, chemical plants and related facilities, and hazardous material transportation systems are all potential targets as well. In an effort to enhance the security of such systems and facilities, we have been visiting them to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to diminish the likelihood of attacks and the consequences of any such attacks.
As part of this effort, we are relying on the reports and information about their operations that these facilities are required to provide under the environmental laws.
Those same laws also establish substantive requirements that: protect drinking water supplies; mandate proper storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous wastes and chemical substances; and call for facilities to develop emergency response plans.
Compliance with Environmental Laws
is Extremely Important
It is of course always important to comply with the law, but it is particularly important now that there be scrupulous compliance with these laws. Compliance with them is not only legally required - it may save many lives. It is also essential that the reports and information required by the environmental laws be complete and accurate.
There are some who disparage intentional violations of reporting requirements as "paperwork" violations. I want you to understand that there is much more at stake here than "paperwork." False reporting undermines the integrity of our environmental system and can imperil our ability to adequately protect our citizens from attack.
How Environmental Lawyers Can Help
What does this have to do with you as an environmental lawyer? Many people have asked what they can do on a personal level to support our nation. Many have given blood, donated money to relief efforts and so on. But there are ways that we as lawyers can use our legal expertise to help strengthen our defenses against terrorist attacks.
I know from my time in private practice that many of you probably counsel your clients on environmental compliance questions. Use this opportunity to support our country by making sure that your clients are fully complying with the environmental laws including reporting requirements, and that they have site security and emergency response plans in place. These advance preparations can save lives, whatever the cause of an emergency. United, we can prevail against assaults on human health and the environment, whatever their source.
Criminal Environmental Enforcement
I would like to turn now to the topic of what you can expect from us in terms of criminal enforcement of the environmental laws. In case the message was not clear from what I've already said, you can expect us to have no patience with those who lie to regulators, their customers, and the public, and who obstruct environmental investigations. In fact, it is fair to say that this type of conduct - which is heartland Title 18 criminal behavior - is a one-way ticket to a criminal case from a matter that might otherwise be resolved civilly.
Just this year, we had a case in which an individual was contacted as part of a civil enforcement effort. Because he obstructed the civil investigation by submitting false forms and forging signatures, he is now looking at a prison sentence and criminal fines.
We are also focusing on prosecuting fraud by environmental laboratories and testing firms. As I have mentioned, many environmental regulatory programs rely on accurate reporting. Labs and other companies who attempt to pass themselves off as providing accurate testing services when they are in fact either fudging the numbers or pulling them out of thin air are endangering human health and the environment, cheating their customers, and unfairly undercutting their competitors. We are therefore making a concerted effort to root out and prosecute this type of fraud.
Another type of conduct that cannot be tolerated is conduct which endangers the health of workers and our communities. We have several cases in this area that we are prosecuting right now, and it's been our experience that they involve defendants risking the health of some of the most disadvantaged people in our society in order to get an unfair advantage over law-abiding businesses. It's not right, it's not fair, and we will continue to prosecute this type of conduct.
Like in our fight against terrorism, the investigation and development of many of our environmental cases require considerable teamwork, not just among federal agencies, but with states and local law enforcement agencies as well. our State partners are often on the front lines of environmental enforcement, and the results that we obtain in a number of our environmental cases wouldn't be nearly as good without their help. In some cases, they wouldn't be possible at all. Because of the great results that we get when we work with them, expect this to be another priority.
Before I close, I would like to mention our wildlife criminal enforcement program. Many people are not aware that the market in illegal traffic in wildlife and flora is third only to drugs and arms in size, and that we have a criminal program targeting this traffic, and enforcement in this area is important.
One of our recent successful prosecutions in this area involved an international live reptile-trafficker from Malaysia. Among other methods of smuggling, he and his co-conspirators would use FedEx shipments to illegally import live animals, many of them worth tens of thousands of dollars. Federal agents seized the smuggled animals as evidence, but this presented the problem of what to do with the animals when the case was over. You might appreciate the difficulty more if I tell you that one of the reptiles in question was a Komodo dragon, which grows to approximately 150 pounds in size and can be quite fierce. (I am told that a female has been observed eating a 66-pound boar in 17 minutes.) So the Fish & Wildlife Service decided in this case that the best course of action would be to turn over the Komodo dragon to the Los Angeles Zoo for display. If you were following the news this summer, you may have heard about it. It was the one that attacked Sharon Stone's husband when she took him for a surprise birthday visit to the zoo.
Thank you again for this opportunity to talk to you about criminal enforcement of the environmental laws.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.