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Federal Prosecution of Environmental Crimes Continues to Drop

“The latest available data from the Justice Department shows that during the 12 months of fiscal year 2018, ending in September, the government reported prosecuting 109 new environmental crimes. Of these 29 defendants were businesses. The rest were individuals. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, this number is down 10.7 percent over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 122. Compared to five years ago when there were 181, the number of prosecutions for this latest year is down 39.8 percent. Environmental crimes cover offenses related to hazardous wastes, toxic substances and the protection of land, water and air. The lead charge typically involves statutes covering water pollution (33 USC 1311, 1319, and 1908), hazardous waste management (42 USC 6928), hazardous materials transport (49 USC 5124), air pollution (42 USC 7413), environmental pesticide control (7 USC 136), and meat inspection (21 USC 610). Over half (58%) of all of these environmental crimes were referred to federal prosecutors by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Interior Department was responsible for referring 15 percent. Homeland Security accounted for another 8 percent, followed by the Department of Transportation with 5 percent. The rest were comprised of a diverse group of agencies from the Agriculture Department to Veterans Administration that referred no more than a few cases each. Relative to the country’s population, environmental prosecutions were rare. For every ten million residents, on average just 3 persons were publicly charged with committing environmental crimes. However, 38 districts across the country prosecuted at least one environmental crime during FY 2018.

In terms of sheer numbers, the Central District of California (Los Angeles) was the most active. That district brought 22 prosecutions involving 13 individuals and 9 businesses. Relative to its population size, Montana ranked first with over 16 times the national per capita prosecution rate. The U.S. Attorney Office there prosecuted 6 parties – one business and five individuals — for a range of different environmental crimes. View the full report here:

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