Skip to main content

Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates Speaks at Marvin Gaye Park on the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you John for that introduction and for inviting me to join you on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

I’m so glad to be with you all here today.  As many of you know, this is not simply a city park—it’s also a symbol of how a community can reclaim its green spaces and take ownership of its environment. 

This place has come a long way.  Not too long ago, back when it was called Watts Branch Park, this was one of the most dangerous sites in this city.  But a drug market has been replaced by a farmer’s market and old tire dumps are now outdoor classrooms.  This park has returned to life because of volunteers like you and because of the hard work of organizations like Washington Parks and People, which is celebrating its 25th year of revitalizing our city. 

It’s this same spirit of service that motivated the founders of Earth Day 45 years ago.  In 1970, everyday Americans joined with politicians of both parties to create a tradition that has endured for nearly a half century.  The first Earth Day was a key moment in the movement that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of major amendments to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

That movement, as you know, has had a tremendous impact on the Department of Justice.  It gave us some of the most powerful legal and regulatory tools we use today to protect our land, air, water and wildlife.  But it also spawned a generation of lawyers and citizens committed to environmental justice.  That spirit of service has made it possible for the department to recruit and retain some of the best environmental lawyers in the country and it has given energy and drive to the work of the Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). 

The division’s recent achievements give me great optimism that you will continue in this proud tradition.  I understand that just this morning, ENRD announced significant settlements in two cases, which John will describe momentarily.  The first resolves ExxonMobil’s alleged violations of the Clean Water Act relating to the 2013 crude oil spill from the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. 

The second addresses claims that Noble Energy failed to design and operate vapor control systems on its oil and gas storage tanks, which caused the release of a key component in the formation of smog.

But these are simply the latest of your achievements. 

In 2014, for example, you defended EPA’s first-ever hazardous air pollutant standards and you continued to defend EPA’s actions on greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 

You secured important agreements with major corporations, including Lowes, Hyundai and Kia.  You prosecuted significant dealers in the illegal rhino horn trade.  You defended a Fish and Wildlife Service rule listing 23 species and revising the critical habitat designations for 99 other species in Hawaii under the Endangered Species Act.  And you reached an historic Tribal Trust Settlement with the Navajo Nation.

These are tremendous accomplishments, and I am barely skimming the surface.  The breadth and scope of the work that the division handles is truly extraordinary.

I want you to know that the Attorney General and I greatly appreciate your outstanding efforts and your accomplishments.  It comes as no surprise to us that client agencies frequently praise the division’s work:  you represent the Department of Justice and the United States with the utmost skill, professionalism and integrity. 

The fact that the environment division ranked #3 last year in the best places to work survey is a testament to the exceptional character of all of you and the division itself. 

I made environmental protection a priority when I was the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta and will continue to make it a priority as Deputy Attorney General.  

I am proud to say that my staff is uniquely well-qualified to assist in that regard.  With me today is Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew Goldsmith.  As some of you know, when Andrew was with ENRD back in 2005-2006, he successfully prosecuted the Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe case, an eight-month trial that is the longest environmental crimes related trial in U.S. history.  The case involved a New Jersey foundry and its managers who put profits ahead of environmental protection and worker safety.  And the convictions and hefty sentences in that case sent a strong message that this kind of conduct would not be tolerated.  Based on his experience in prosecuting cases like this, I recently gave him responsibility for environmental matters in my office and we look forward to working with you to bring ENRD to even greater heights.

The department’s leadership is confident that ENRD’s dedication and hard work will continue to be an essential part of the government’s efforts to meet tomorrow’s most pressing challenges.

As you spend the day here, remember how far we’ve come, both in this very special park and throughout the country.  We have more work to do, but this morning’s crowd makes clear that we’ve got the people to do it. 

Thank you for having me, and enjoy the day.

Updated April 22, 2015