Protecting the Environment and Public Health
The Environmental Protection Unit, in the Office’s Civil Division, protects the environment and public health in this district and beyond.
Our efforts including enforcement under traditional environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act; environmental health matters related to toxic substances and living conditions in housing; worker safety; and food safety. Across all these areas, we prioritize enforcement in areas that support environmental justice by protecting disadvantaged communities that disproportionately bear environmental and public health burdens.
- Environmental Justice for 400,000 Low-Income New Yorkers: The Environmental Protection Unit conducted a sweeping investigation of health and safety problems, including violation of lead paint safety regulations, at the New York City Housing Authority, home to roughly 400,000 low-income New Yorkers. In January 2019, the Office and its partners at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) entered into a pathbreaking settlement with NYCHA and New York City to address these issues. The settlement imposes strict health and safety standards, puts in place a program of institutional reform, requires the City to provide more than $2 billion in additional funding for NYCHA, and appoints a federal monitor.
- Record-Setting Clean Air Act Settlement: In January 2021, the Environmental Protection Unit sued Toyota Motor Corporation on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) under the Clean Air Act for emission defect reporting violations. The Office simultaneously entered into a consent decree with Toyota that imposed a $180 million civil penalty—the largest ever for emission defect reporting violations—and injunctive relief that sets the standard for future compliance.
- Largest Recovery of Clean-Up Costs Ever, with more than $1 Billion for Clean-Up in Disadvantaged Communities. In the Tronox bankruptcy, after years of litigation and negotiation, the Environmental Protection Unit entered into a settlement recovering more than $4.4 billion from affiliates of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation for environmental claims and liabilities. More than $1 billion of this funding went to address contamination in communities with environment justice concerns, including historic uranium mining waste on Navajo Nation and creosote chemical waste in communities in the South.
- Worker Safety at Amazon Warehouses. The Environmental Protection Unit is leading the Office’s current investigation of workplace safety and related issues at Amazon.Com warehouses, including injuries resulting from workplace hazards, worker rate requirements and the pace of work, and whether Amazon appropriately reported on-the-job injuries. As previously announced, we would like to hear from current and former warehouse workers, supervisors, safety team members, AmCare staff, or anyone else with relevant information, which can be provided at this link.
SDNY’s Criminal Division pursues significant criminal violations of environmental law. These include wildlife trafficking, the unlawful release of asbestos, and lead paint violations The Criminal Division works closely with criminal investigative agents at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In particular, the Civil Rights Unit in the Criminal Division focuses on matters raising environmental justice concerns.
The Environmental Protection Unit defends the United States when it is sued in this district under environmental, natural resources, and wildlife laws. These matters include challenges to regulations and other formal actions by environmental agencies; claims that agencies failed to give environmental issues a “hard look” where required under the National Environmental Protection Act; and requests for courts to compel environmental agencies to take actions that they have not taken.
On both the civil and criminal sides of the Office, one of our highest priorities is the pursuit of environmental justice. As highlighted in the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, disadvantaged communities “bear the effects of pollution disproportionately, resulting in greater rates of illness and death, developmental impairments in children, and a variety of economic harms.” SDNY is committed to addressing this disproportionate burden through all the enforcement tools at its disposal.
Environmental justice matters that have been handled by the Office include the NYCHA, Tronox, and Amazon matters described above, as well as numerous other matters, such as the Office’s ongoing litigation effort seeking to address sewer system non-compliance in the City of Mount Vernon, New York, and its recent settlement with Tzumi Innovations, LLC, which targeted lower-income populations in the sale of unregistered antimicrobial products.
We work closely with partners across the federal government, including at EPA and HUD and at the Department of Justice’s Office of Environmental Justice, in our environmental justice matters.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams is a member of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Justice Enforcement Steering Committee. That Committee is charged with ensuring coordination among DOJ components and providing leadership and guidance for the implementation of DOJ’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy.
We encourage you to bring environmental or environmental justice concerns relating to the Southern District of New York to our attention. Please send an email to USANYS.Environmental-EJ@usdoj.gov and describe the concerns in as much detail as possible.