Part One: The Basics
History of the
Federal Environmental Crimes Program
The federal Environmental Criminal Enforcement Program is a highly successful cooperative eort
between federal prosecutors in the Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) of the U.S. Department
of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., line prosecutors in the 93 U.S. Attorneys’ oces, and crimi-
nal investigators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies including
the U.S. Coast Guard. Over t he last two decades, these groups have established a solid foundation for the
criminal enforcement eort by establishing clear policies for instituting criminal prosecutions, devising
sensible enforcement priorities, and achieving a series of court victories that have created an eective deter-
rent threat. e program has enjoyed broad public support and largely avoided political controversy, with
the exception of one rough passage in the mid-1990s.
I. Origins of the Criminal Enforcement Program
e rst generation of environmental statues adopted in the 1970s provided for crimina l enforcement of
their provisions, generally through provisions that punished violations a s misdemea nors. Initially, DOJ
made little use of these authorities. EPA’s Oce of Criminal Enforcement referred many cases to DOJ’s
Division of Lands and Natural Resources (since renamed the Environmental and Natural Resources Divi-
sion) for criminal prosecution, but the Division declined nearly 60% of the referrals due to poor investiga-
tive work.1 e rst tentative steps toward a freesta nding crimina l enforcement program oc curred in fall
1982. In October, EPA hired its rst cohort of e xperienced criminal investigators. In November, DOJ
created a small contingent of prosecutors in the Environment Crimes Unit within its existing Civil Envi-
ronmental Enforcement Section.
e Criminal Enforcement Program achieved its current institutional structure by 1987, when the U.S.
Attorney General created an independent ECS within the then Lands Division, with a mission to prosecute
individuals and corporations that had violated laws designed to protect the environment. e creation of
ECS, under t he leadership of Judson Starr, reected a policy decision to maintain a degree of central iza-
tion in the adm inistration of the program. By placing formal responsibility for approval of signicant
criminal prosecutions in the ECS, and ultimately the assistant attorney general in Washington, D.C., DOJ
sought to ensure that: c ases would be selected in a manner that minimized risk to crucial EPA regulatory
interpretations; similar cases would be treated alike, even though they arose in dierent parts of the coun-
try; and potentially precedent-setting ca ses would be ca refully presented and would have the attention of
DOJ’s high-level management. Given the diculty in dening whether environmental violators should
be prosecuted criminally, civilly, or administratively, this centra lized policy control advanced the goal of
consistency in charging decisions.
e environmental crimes initiative benetted from t his improved institutional structure, but initia lly
suered from limited resources a nd inadequate statutory authority. Many U.S. attorneys displayed little
1. EPA’s Law Enforcement Authority, 1983: Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Oversight and Investigations of the House Comm. on Energy and Com-
merce, 98th Cong. 92 (1983) (testimony of Assistant Attorney General Habicht).