Justice News

Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden Speaks at Marvin Gaye Park on the 45th Anniversary of Earth Day
Washington, DC
United States
Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning and welcome to Earth Day 2015.

This marks the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s (ENRD) consecutive year coming to Marvin Gaye Park in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Earth Day by working with Washington Parks and People and with its Director, Steve Coleman.  We are thrilled to be joined today by Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates as well as our colleagues from the Department of Justice’s Justice Management Division and from the Department of the Interior. 

I would like to begin by introducing Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.  Before beginning her service as the Acting Deputy Attorney General in January, Sally had served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia since 2010.  While in that position, she was appointed by Attorney General Holder to serve as Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.  Sally has 25 years of prosecutorial experience in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she has prosecuted a wide variety of complex matters and has specialized in public corruption cases.  She has devoted most of her professional career to public service.  We are fortunate to have Sally with us today to say a few words.  Please give her a warm welcome. Thank you for being here, Sally.

Today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, which heralded the beginning of a new era in environmental protection.  On this day in 1970, Earth Day’s founder Senator Gaylord Nelson gave a speech in Denver, Colorado.  In that speech, he noted that “Earth Day is dramatic evidence of a broad new national concern that cuts across generations and ideologies.”  That “national concern” emerged as a result of a slate of ecological threats – from toxic dumps to raw sewage, and from the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching on fire to a devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.  In turn, this “national concern” led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the bedrock environmental and natural resources laws you enforce today.  Through these laws, you help protect our air, land and water for all Americans and help ensure the public’s health.  

The critical role played by the enforcement of environmental laws was made clear five years ago this week when the blowout of the Macondo well – the worst, off-shore oil spill in our nation’s history – devastated the lives and livelihoods of so many people in the Gulf of Mexico.  The department continues to press for appropriate civil penalties against BPXP and Anadarko.  We also continue working with the Gulf states – through our federal and state natural resource trustees – to assess the extent of injury from the spill to Gulf resources and identify appropriate restoration – restoration that should be paid for by those responsible under the law.

In addition to these ongoing efforts in the Gulf, I am proud to announce today two major settlements in ENRD cases.  Fittingly, the first of these settlements involves reducing harmful emissions in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, just north of where Gaylord Nelson spoke on the first Earth Day.  Today, ENRD, EPA and the state of Colorado are lodging a consent decree with Noble Energy resolving alleged Clean Air Act violations stemming from the company’s natural gas production activities north of Denver. 

At issue in the case were leaks of vapors from Noble’s storage tanks; those vapors primarily contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are a precursor to ground level ozone, or smog.  Under the settlement, Noble will spend approximately $60 million on engineering analyses and upgrades to over 3,400 tank sites and their vapor control systems across the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which we expect will reduce VOC emissions by several thousand tons per year.  In addition, Noble will pay $4.95 million in civil penalties, a portion of which will go to the state of Colorado and spend at least $4.5 million on mitigation projects, such as installing systems to capture vapors during off-loading of tanks into trucks, and retrofitting diesel engines on drilling rigs and fracturing equipment, which will reduce VOC and nitrogen oxide emissions by an estimated 800 tons per year.  Noble will also complete a total of $4 million in supplemental environmental projects.

Those are the key terms of the settlement, but I would like to provide some contours to these numbers.  This settlement is the first of its kind to take a basin-wide, systematic approach to air pollution from these kinds of sources anywhere in the country and will provide a framework for future settlements resolving issues stemming from energy extraction activities.  Further, the public health benefits of this approach to the settlement will be substantial and this settlement serves as an excellent example of how ENRD and EPA work closely and effectively with states.  

The second of the settlements resolves Clean Water Act claims arising from a major spill from the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas.  The spill, which occurred in the spring of 2013, had a significant impact – it contaminated homes and yards before entering a creek, wetlands and a cove of Lake Conway.  Over 1,700 animals were oiled.  The total spill volume was approximately 134,000 gallons, or 3,190 barrels, some of which is still in the wetland and the cove sediments.  Today, ENRD, EPA, and the state of Arkansas are lodging a consent decree with ExxonMobil to resolve these Clean Water Act claims. 

Under the settlement, ExxonMobil will pay $3.19 million in federal civil penalties.  This money will go into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which will then be available for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the U.S. or adjoining shorelines.  ExxonMobil will also pay $1 million in state civil penalties.  It is worth noting that these penalties are in addition to the money already paid by the company to clean up the spill and reimburse federal and state response efforts.

The terms of the settlement further require ExxonMobil to take corrective action measures to improve its inspections of the pipeline and its training of first responders that will help prevent future ruptures and improve its spill response.  Moreover, ExxonMobil will implement one or more supplemental environmental projects to improve state water quality at a cost of at least $600,000.  As with the Noble settlement, this represents an outstanding example of effective federal and state cooperation in a joint enforcement action.  The settlement also helps take the profit out of neglecting an oil company’s duties of ensuring infrastructure maintenance and spill preparedness.

Finally, I am proud to announce today’s release of our Fiscal Year 2014 Accomplishments Report, which includes examples of our work from across our diverse portfolio.  During the past year, the division recorded just over $400 million in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and cost recoveries, secured more than $6.2 billion in corrective measures in the form of clean-up and pollution prevention actions by private parties, avoided claims of over $2 billion as a result of our defensive litigation efforts; and achieved a favorable outcome in 93% of our cases resolved in Fiscal Year 2014.  These accomplishments further our efforts to enforce the environmental laws, vigorously represent the U.S., protect the public fisc, advance environmental justice and provide effective stewardship of the nation’s lands and natural resources.

These announcements are a testament to all of your work and a fitting way to begin a day commemorating the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.  But this year also marks another important milestone – it is the 25th anniversary for Washington Parks and People.  This group’s work shows how the “national concern” about the environment can lead to action at the local level.

We are excited to be here today to work with this outstanding group and to celebrate its quarter century of work to revitalize the capital area’s parks and waterways.  I am now going to turn things over to their Director, Steve Coleman, who will kick off our work today.  The division has enjoyed a great partnership with Steve throughout the years, and I am glad that he has welcomed us back.

Updated May 18, 2016