What We Do
The Environment and Natural Resources Division is a core litigating component of the U.S. Department of Justice. Our mission is to enforce the Nation’s civil and criminal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and hazardous waste laws. Our mission also involves the protection of the Nation’s natural resources and handling cases relating to tribal rights and resources. The Division’s efforts result in significant public health and other direct benefits to the American people through the reduction of pollution across the Nation and the protection of important natural resources.
Prevention and Clean Up of Pollution
Nearly half of the Division’s lawyers bring cases against those who violate pollution-control laws. This work requires the Division to adhere to statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (or “Superfund”). The Division’s Sections that carry out this work include the Environmental Crimes Section, Environmental Enforcement Section, and Environmental Defense Section. ENRD routinely cooperates with state and local law enforcement officials in prosecuting pollution cases. As part of criminal prosecutions, ENRD provides assistance to victims of pollution crimes and other environmental crimes and supports professionals who assist these victims. The Division also regularly provides faculty for state environmental criminal enforcement training, frequently working with the four regional environmental enforcement associations: the Northeast Environmental Project, the Southeast Environmental Enforcement Network, the Midwest Environmental Enforcement Association, and the Western States Project. Working with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and state and local law enforcement agencies, ENRD has promoted the formation of regional environmental crimes task forces. Additionally, ENRD has partnered with the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) to increase federal-state cooperation on environmental enforcement cases. These efforts have helped ensure that federal and state enforcement efforts complement, rather than compete with, each other.
The Division oversees the acquisition of land by eminent domain for the federal government. This important work, undertaken by authority of Congress, involves the acquisition of land for important national projects such as establishment of national parks, construction of federal buildings including courthouses, and securing military training sites. The Division’s Land Acquisition Section carries out this work.
The Division is responsible for bringing and defending cases under federal wildlife laws. The Division's Wildlife and Marine Resources Section is responsible for civil cases arising under the fish and wildlife conservation laws, including the Endangered Species Act, which protects endangered and threatened animals and plants, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects animals such as whales, seals and dolphins. This work includes litigation over which species should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, cases challenging the way in which protected species are considered when federal agencies carry out their missions, and other litigation related to the balance between species protection and resource development in federal agency decision-making. The Environmental Crimes Section also brings criminal prosecutions under these laws against, for example, people who are found smuggling wildlife and plants into the United States. ENRD often cooperates with state and local law enforcement when prosecuting wildlife crime cases.
Public Lands and Natural Resources
A substantial portion of the Division's work includes litigation under a plethora of statutes related to the management of public lands and associated natural and cultural resources. All varieties of public lands are affected by the Division's litigation docket, ranging from entire ecosystems, such as the Nation's most significant sub-tropical wetlands (the Everglades) and the Nation's largest rain forest (the Tongass), to individual rangelands or wildlife refuges. The Division represents all the land management agencies of the United States including, for instance, the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Defense. The Natural Resources Section is primarily responsible for these cases.
Indian Rights and Resources
The Division's Indian Resources Section litigates on behalf of federal agencies when they are protecting the rights and resources of federally recognized Indian tribes and their members. This includes both defending against challenges to statutes and agency action designed to protect tribal interests and bringing suits on behalf of federal agencies to protect tribal rights and natural resources. The rights and resources typically at issue include water rights, the ability to acquire reservation land, hunting and fishing rights, and other natural resources. ENRD commonly collaborates with particular tribes as part of this work.
Appellate and Policy Work
The Division is responsible for handling the initial appeals of all cases litigated by Division attorneys and for supporting the Assistant Attorney General in the development of policy concerning the enforcement of federal environmental laws. The Appellate Section carries out this work. The Division also advises and assists the Assistant Attorney General on environmental legal and policy questions, particularly those that affect multiple sections in the Division. The Division’s Law and Policy Section is primarily responsible for this work.