Environment and Natural Resources Division Releases Accomplishments Report for FY2017
Today, the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) released its Accomplishments Report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. The report, which is published annually by ENRD, highlights the division’s strong enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws, defense of government programs that strengthen the country’s energy independence and national security, and close collaboration with states and tribes.
“It has been a true honor and privilege to serve as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) since January 2017, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and alongside the extraordinary public servants of the division,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood. “ENRD is a powerful force for good in our country — both through our enforcement of the environmental laws to protect clean land, clean air, clean water, and wildlife, and our defense of the rule of law and good governance by the federal agencies that ENRD represents.”
This year, ENRD focused on several key objectives: vigorously enforcing the environmental laws of the United States; promoting energy independence and economic growth by reducing regulatory burdens and supporting infrastructure development; strengthening national security; promoting cooperative federalism by partnering with states and tribes; and responsibly protecting taxpayer dollars.
In 2017, ENRD obtained a number of court orders requiring responsible parties to clean up hazardous waste and to reimburse the government for cleanups conducted by federal agencies. The division also concluded landmark civil and criminal cases against Volkswagen AG, which used “defeat devices” to cheat our air emissions laws. The division also continued to work with federal and state partner agencies to investigate other possible bad actors in the auto industry and to bring similar violators to justice.
Among other successes this year, ENRD secured the largest-ever penalty for crimes involving deliberate vessel pollution — $40 million — against Princess Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of the world’s largest cruise company. In another settlement announced in early 2018 (FY2018), the division required Denver-based PDC Energy to spend approximately $19.7 million to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds from 650 tank batteries and pay a $2.5 million civil penalty. The division also negotiated the cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation lands. In addition, the division criminally prosecuted more than 20 wildlife traffickers who harmed protected species.
The change in administration also brought changes in policy priorities for the agencies that the division represents. Through its representation of the United States in legal challenges to new policy initiatives at partner agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security, the division has played a critical role in paving the way for investments in infrastructure and energy security projects that will strengthen the U.S. economy, as well as facilitating more robust border control and military operations to protect our national security. For example, ENRD defended the federal permits issued for several energy infrastructure projects, including the Dakota Access Pipeline (which is now operational), and has resolved a number of critical cases to acquire land for improved border protection and for expansion or development of military installations.
The Trump Administration is undertaking an ambitious agenda of regulatory reform, and ENRD supports this effort by advising partner agencies, including EPA and DOI, on high-priority rulemakings and ensuring the effective defense of regulatory actions in court. The division also is managing a number of cases challenging agency regulations promulgated under previous administrations that are under review pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Orders. Notable examples are challenges to the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule.
“Our aim at ENRD is to avoid unnecessary litigation, support the integrity of the administrative process, and conserve the resources of the courts, the agencies, and other litigants, while also defending the rightful prerogative of the Administration to review the costs and benefits of regulations and to chart a new direction where appropriate,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood added.
In FY2017, ENRD worked on 3,943 cases and matters, while maintaining a robust docket of nearly 7,000 cases and matters. In addition, ENRD obtained over $4.8 billion in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and costs recovered, and the estimated value of federal injunctive relief obtained — clean-up and pollution prevention actions funded by private parties — exceeded $18.7 billion. ENRD also saved the government an estimated $360 million in the successful defense of claims brought against the government. The division is also implementing recent policy directives by the Attorney General, including restrictions on third party payments in settlement agreements.
The report also recognizes the important contributions of ENRD’s front office leadership: Deputy Assistant Attorneys General Jean Williams, Bruce Gelber, Eric Grant, and Jonathan Brightbill, as well as Counsel and Chief of Staff Corinne Snow.