US Senator Alex Padilla Pushes DOJ to Improve Environmental Law Enforcement

Letter to AG Garland asks DOJ to hold polluters accountable and better protect communities

April 12, 2021 – WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California), a member of the Senate Judiciary and Environment and Public Works Committees, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling the Ministry of Justice to improve environmental law enforcement in the Central District of California. The letter also asks the Justice Department to explain its policy regarding the use of non-prosecution agreements that spare polluting companies criminal liability.

The letter follows a Los Angeles Times report that Central District prosecutors have reached more settlements with companies accused of violating environmental laws than any other office in the nation, letting companies escape criminal liability for environmental crimes while disadvantaged communities in Los Angeles suffer from multiple sources of toxic pollution that disproportionately impact their health, safety and livelihoods.

“Communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities are more likely to live near polluting factories and hazardous waste sites than wealthier, whiter communities. Many such communities in the Los Angeles area are severely impacted by multiple sources of pollution from industrial facilities, traffic congestion and proximity to ports,” wrote Senator Padilla.

He continued, “The Department of Justice must hold polluters accountable for environmental crimes that disproportionately affect Black, Latino and Native American communities. I appreciate your attention to this important issue and look forward to your response.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

I am writing to bring to your attention a disturbing trend regarding the use of non-prosecution agreements by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California in cases involving environmental justice.

Communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal communities are more likely to live near polluting factories and hazardous waste sites than wealthier, whiter communities. Many such communities in the Los Angeles area are severely impacted by multiple sources of pollution from industrial facilities, traffic congestion, and proximity to ports.

Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that Central District prosecutors have “reached more such deals with companies accused of violating environmental laws than any of the other 93 such offices nationwide.” More specifically, the Time reported that 40% of all non-prosecuted transactions nationwide related to environmental and wildlife cases since the 1990s originated from the Central District of California.

While the number of no-prosecution agreements in the Central District is concerning, given the many environmental injustices facing communities in Los Angeles, it is even more troubling that not all of these agreements have resulted in the cleanup that they were supposed to facilitate. For example, Central District prosecutors reached a non-prosecution agreement with Exide Technologies, which has committed decades of environmental crimes by dumping lead and other dangerous contaminants into the air, soil and water, mainly affecting the working class, Latin American. communities that continue to suffer from cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, dangerous levels of lead in the blood, etc. As part of the deal with federal prosecutors, all Exide had to do to avoid criminal liability was admit to his crimes, shut down his establishment, and agree to pay $50 million to cover the costs of decontamination. However, Exide instead declared bankruptcy and escaped responsibility for completing the cleanup, leaving California taxpayers responsible for the largest environmental cleanup in California history.

The Exide case and the broader trend in the Central District raise critical questions about whether the Justice Department’s mission to provide “a fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans” is truly being served. Therefore, I ask you to answer the following questions:

  • What is the Department’s policy regarding the use of non-prosecution agreements, and are there written guidelines for prosecutors to follow?
  • Why has the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California reached more non-prosecution agreements than any other office in the country?
  • How does the Department track non-prosecution agreements?

The Justice Department must hold polluters accountable for environmental crimes that disproportionately affect Black, Latino and Native American communities. I appreciate your attention to this important issue and look forward to your response.

Truly,
Source: Senator Alex Padilla