October 1982 has generally been regarded as the official birthday of the federal government´s criminal environmental enforcement program. During that month the Department of Justice announced the creation of a small group of prosecutors (4) to enforce the criminal provisions of the environmental laws. Known as the Environmental Crimes Unit, the group operated within the Enforcement Section of the Land and Natural Resources Division. Also during that month, criminal investigators, hired by EPA as part of its centralized criminal investigations program, first reported to duty. These actions were taken in recognition that criminal penalties had the potential for greater deterrence than more traditional civil or administrative remedies, particularly in the prosecution of individual corporate managers.
In 1987, the Environmental Crimes Unit formally separated from the Enforcement Section and became known as the Environmental Crimes Section. This change in name and stature reflected the growing importance of environmental criminal prosecutions, and put the new Section on a par with the older, more established sections in Environmental Division. By the time the Unit became a Section in 1987, its number had grown to approximately 18 attorneys. Today, the Section has over 40 attorneys.