Feds Promise “More Stick Than Carrot” for Environmental Crimes Enforcement

By: Kathy G. Beckett

Published: December 20, 2021

The Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section Chief, Deborah Harris, recently discussed environmental crime enforcement during an American Bar Association virtual conference. Ms. Harris told attendees that government investigators are “going back to a little more stick than carrot.” EPA’s environmental investigators will focus on more vigorous criminal enforcement instead of merely evaluating corporate compliance efforts. The DOJ also plans to train OSHA inspectors to better recognize potential environmental issues, and to increase coordination between EPA and other federal law enforcement agencies. These training and coordination efforts will leverage investigations to include heightened scrutiny of potential environmental offenses.

The DOJ considers environmental justice a high priority and time will tell whether that results in additional criminal prosecutions. The evidentiary standards for criminal environmental prosecutions are often low. For example, Clean Water Act violations need only meet a negligence standard to be criminally prosecuted.

Businesses at risk for environmental issues should promptly seek legal advice on handling any government investigation or inquiry. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC’s highly experienced lawyers routinely help clients navigate serious government investigations, including those with environmental crimes implications.

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