Skip to main content

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim Delivers Remarks at the ALI-CLE Environmental Law Conference in Washington, D.C.


Washington, DC
United States

I’d like to thank ALI-CLE for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here, and in particular to appear with Varu and David.

Since the last time we appeared together David has been confirmed as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance—congratulations! May our partnership continue to bear fruit.

My name is Todd Kim, and I have the great privilege to serve as the Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

I originally joined the Division as an Honors Attorney, and I spent almost eight years as a member of the Division’s Appellate Section. I’m eager to talk with you about our work and how that translates to your experience representing clients on matters of environmental compliance.

You may have heard me say this last year, but for those who did not, ENRD is one of the litigating divisions at DOJ. We’re sometimes called the “world’s largest environmental law firm,” with almost 600 employees, including nearly 400 attorneys.

ENRD’s mission is to protect the health and welfare of the American people, preserve the breathtaking landscapes and our precious natural resources, and ensure that all Americans are treated fairly under the law.

Our docket is a busy one, most years roughly split between affirmative and defensive cases, and involving more than 150 statutes administered by many federal agencies, with the EPA and the Department of the Interior being our most frequent clients. ENRD’s docket is growing and now includes over 7000 active cases and matters.

Our work has real nationwide impact. In Fiscal Year 2023, for instance, our enforcement work obtained over $400 million in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and costs recovered, and we secured federal injunctive relief valued at over $2.3 billion.

ENRD has continued to advance two key priorities—combating the climate crisis and furthering environmental justice—since the last time we were together.

The climate crisis is a defining issue of our time and ENRD will be vital to combating it.

As I explained when I spoke at ALI-CLE last year, what we consider ENRD “climate” cases has a flexible definition consisting of three broad categories: first, affirmative litigation to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; second, affirmative litigation to otherwise protect natural resources and the environment against climate-related threats; and third, climate-related defensive litigation.

Over the past year, ENRD aggressively pursued all three of these types of cases. Our enforcement litigation includes cases that protect and enhance carbon sinks as well as cases that directly reduce greenhouse gases.

For example, the Department of Justice and EPA announced in April three separate settlements with natural gas processors. Those settlements will require the companies to pay a combined $9.25 million in civil penalties and make improvements at 25 gas processing plants and 91 compressor stations. The combined settlements will reduce greenhouse gases by more than 50,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction equates to taking more than 11,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles off the road for one year.

Similarly, ENRD, together with the State of Colorado, entered into a settlement with DCP Operating Company LP and five other subsidiaries of DCP Midstream LP in October to strengthen leak detection and repair practices at eight natural gas processing plants in Colorado. Under the settlement, DCP agreed to pay a $3.25 million civil penalty and to implement comprehensive injunctive measures across all eight of its natural gas processing plants. Methane is more than 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. EPA estimates that the settlement will reduce methane emissions by 1,300 tons.

We have also achieved significant greenhouse gas reductions as co-benefits of the enforcement of the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone in the oil and gas production sector. For example, since just March last year, working with EPA and our partners in the State of New Mexico, we have announced settlements in a trio of cases in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico against Matador Production Company, Mewbourne Oil Company, and Apache Corporation. Under these settlements, covering 1083 oil and gas well pads in total, the companies must implement extensive design, operation, maintenance and monitoring improvements. The settlements will lead to methane-emission reductions equivalent to 89,000 tons of carbon dioxide. These greenhouse gas reductions are in addition to the significant decreases in the emission of volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen that will reduce the formation of ground-level ozone. The companies will also spend almost $3 million to implement additional emissions-reduction projects and pay more than $12 million in civil penalties.

Suffice it to say, we have the industries’ attention and plan to continue vigorous enforcement efforts in this sector, to the benefit of nearby communities and the planet as a whole.

This brings me to my second point. All Americans—no matter their economic status, their zip code, or the color of their skin—should have clean air to breathe, have access to safe drinking water, and be protected from the worsening effects of climate change. Yet all too often, communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal communities suffer disproportionately.

ENRD leads a DOJ-wide effort to root out environmental injustice. Our Office of Environmental Justice plays a key role, and our work is guided by four principles:

Prioritize cases that will reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened and underserved communities;

Make strategic use of all available legal tools to address environmental justice concerns;

Ensure meaningful engagement with impacted communities; and

Promote transparency in our environmental justice enforcement.

We put these principles into practice through our enforcement work. For example, this past year ENRD secured the largest ever penalty for a Clean Air Act stationary source settlement, in a case we brought against BP Products North America Inc. for its emissions of hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds at its Whiting Refinery in Indiana. As part of the settlement, BPP agreed to undertake a $5 million supplemental environmental project to reduce diesel emissions in four communities surrounding the Whiting Refinery, based on the recommendations of community advisory panels.

Additionally, the work of our Environmental Crimes Section has demonstrated for years that organizations that violate their environmental obligations also tend to violate the safety standards designed to protect their workers and vice versa. Many of the country’s most dangerous jobs are filled by our most vulnerable residents and members of communities burdened by disproportionate pollution and other environmental hazards. Continuing to vigorously prosecute worker safety cases is another way in which we are advancing environmental justice and protecting the public at ENRD.

The latest example is the prosecution in United States vs. Didion Milling. Last week, three senior managers were each sentenced to two years in prison for their roles in worker safety, environmental, and fraud crimes at a corn mill in Cambria, Wisconsin. Following an equipment fire and catastrophic explosions on May 31, 2017, that killed 5 employees and severely injured others, an investigation uncovered that Didion had been violating both safety measures designed to prevent grain dust explosions and Clean Air Act permit requirements to manage particulate emissions at the corn mill for years. They had concealed their violations through falsified documents and other obstructive conduct. The company previously pleaded guilty to document falsification and agreed to pay a $1 million fine and, importantly, $10.25 million in restitution to the victims of the May 2017 explosion.

So, here’s the takeaway for those who deal with compliance matters. Our enforcement decisions consider the imperative to advance environmental justice. We are listening to concerns expressed in historically overburdened and underserved communities across the country and are seeking to address those concerns. We encourage industry stakeholders to be sure they are listening to neighboring communities and meeting their obligations under federal environmental law. The failure to do so will result in federal enforcement.

In summation, I would just like to note that the Division’s enforcement attorneys are always innovating and looking for new ways to protect the public and our natural resources. With that aim in mind, we intend to undertake even more of this vital work as we move ahead.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to the discussion.

Environmental Justice
Updated February 22, 2024