Skip to main content

Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno Delivers Remarks at the Georgetown/OAS/World Bank Roundtable


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Charles and Claudia, for that introduction.  And thank you to Erick Langer for putting together this program.

I am honored to share this panel with my counterpart from PROFEPA, Sr. Francisco Moreno Merino, and to be here with Senator Salinas and other distinguished guests from Mexico, as well as colleagues from the U.S. government and representatives of the academic community.

I appreciate Senator Salinas’s efforts to explore common priorities and opportunities for collaboration between our two countries.

As was mentioned earlier, I am the Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the United States Department of Justice.  The Division is comprised of approximately 400 lawyers and currently handles almost 7,000 active civil and criminal cases.
The Environment Division is responsible for all civil and criminal judicial enforcement of the environmental and natural resources laws of the United States.

Division lawyers also defend federal agency actions and rules when they are challenged in the federal courts, such as the recent challenge to the greenhouse gas rules and other actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Given the nature of today’s program and our limited time together, I will focus my remarks on the Division’s work in environmental enforcement and international capacity-building.

The Environment Division’s enforcement efforts over the years have achieved dramatic reductions in emissions and discharges of harmful pollutants to the Nation’s air, land and water.

Despite these successes, I can tell you first-hand that there are still many communities in the United States that do not enjoy the benefits of clean air, clean land and clean water.

In this land of plenty, children living in poverty are more likely to breathe polluted air and suffer from asthma, or live near toxic waste sites or landfills, or lack a safe source of drinking water.

In the Environment Division, we have not forgotten communities who lack wealth, power or political influence. 
Through our enforcement of federal environmental laws, we continue to pursue the goals of environmental justice by working to ensure that all communities:

Enjoy the benefit of a fair and even-handed application of the law; and
Have a meaningful opportunity to provide input into the consideration of the appropriate remedies for violations of the law.

Last week, I announced the release of the Environment Division’s annual report which is posted on the Department of Justice’s website. 
We are very proud of the work that we do on behalf of the American people.  But we can always do more. 

It is clear that the environmental and natural resources challenges we face are becoming increasingly global in nature.  Transboundary pollution.  Greenhouse gases.  Endangered species.  Invasive species.  Tropical deforestation.  Trade and the environment. 

The simple truth is that neither the global environment, nor our environment here at home, can be protected without focused international attention and cooperation.  A renewed partnership with our counterparts abroad is therefore essential.

Working closely with our counterparts abroad, we are prosecuting illegal trade in endangered species, illegal logging, and the illegal import and export of hazardous materials.

We are sharing expertise with investigators, prosecutors, and judges in other countries. 

Air and water pollution do not respect national boundaries.  Helping to reduce pollution abroad will lead to a cleaner and safer environment here at home as well as for our neighbors to the north, to the south, and beyond.

As you may know, the Environment Division has a longstanding history of collaboration with our Mexican counterparts in the pursuit of the protection of human health and the environment.

We have well-established bilateral work groups and our commitments also are reflected in the trilateral environment side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the United States and Mexico signed with Canada. 

The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation includes, among other things, a mutual pledge for enhanced cooperation and enforcement of each country’s environmental laws.

We value our relationship with our Mexican counterparts.  I am proud of our partnership, which enables our countries to protect human health and the environment on both sides of our shared border.

We view capacity-building as a two-way street.  In the environmental enforcement context, we can assist each other by:
Sharing technical expertise; Enhancing the capacity to investigate and prosecute environmental violations under our respective laws; and
Improving the ability to help each other gather evidence, apprehend offenders, seize the illegal proceeds from those who seek to reap an economic benefit from violations of the law, and hold those who violate the law accountable to the fullest extent of the law. 

In the remaining time, I will highlight a case in which our countries worked together successfully to prosecute trans-boundary environmental crime.
“Operation Central” was an investigation and prosecution of a multinational ring of persons trafficking in the skins and shells of sea turtles valued at $1 million dollars, which were protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

This case involved significant successful coordination between United States and Mexican law enforcement officials.  The Environment Division successfully prosecuted nine individuals in federal court, all but one of whom received a jail term.  A tenth individual has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

The Government of Mexico similarly arrested and prosecuted participants in the illegal scheme in Mexico.

This joint effort is an example of what we can do together.

And, there is more to be done.

We welcome the opportunity for further partnership and collaboration with Mexico on environmental enforcement, so that we can ensure greater compliance with the law and achieve the benefits of a clean environment for citizens on both sides of the border.

I know that we are up to the challenge.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to join you today.

It has been my pleasure to be here, and I look forward to answering your questions.

Updated September 17, 2014