Record Year for Environmental Enforcement
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division has announced one of its most successful years in its history of over a century, including the highest recoveries in environmental enforcement and the highest criminal penalties handed down in individual vessel pollution and wildlife trafficking cases.
The year was highlighted by the completion of a settlement with BP arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico with the final entry in April 2016 of the consent decree in the Department’s record-breaking settlement. This saw the United States and the five Gulf Coast states secure payments in excess of $20 billion to resolve their claims against BP.
This settlement is the largest in the history of federal law enforcement for a single defendant, and it includes the largest-ever Clean Water Act civil penalty and the largest-ever recovery of damages for injuries to natural resources.
In addition to the BP litigation, the division continued its program of prosecuting shipping companies and crew for the intentional discharges of pollutants from ocean-going vessels in U.S. waters. At the end of fiscal year 2016, criminal penalties imposed in these cases totaled more than $363 million in fines and more than 32 years of confinement.
And in December 2016, the division obtained the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution when it concluded the prosecution of Princess Cruise Lines. The company pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and will pay a $40 million penalty.
The division’s work also involves fighting for the survival of the world’s most iconic species and marine resources, and working across the government and the globe to end the illegal trade in wildlife. The division brought some of the most significant wildlife prosecutions in U.S. history this year, particularly in the timber trafficking case against Lumber Liquidators.
That case yielded a total of $13.15 million in penalties, the largest financial penalty for timber trafficking under the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to import timber taken in violation of the laws of a foreign country and to transport falsely labeled timber across international borders into the U.S.
In Operation Crash, a multi-year, ongoing effort targeting illegal trade of horns from highly endangered rhinoceroses and elephant ivory, the Department thus far has secured combined prison sentences of nearly 34 years, fines of over $2 million and forfeiture and restitution of $5.5 million.
The division’s 2016 report is available here.