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  January 25th, 2017 | Written by

DOJ: 2016 One of its Most Successful Years on Environmental Enforcement

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  • DOJ division handled 7,000 cases, matters, and appeals in 2016.
  • ENRD achieved over $14 billion in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and costs recovered.
  • ENRD resolved Clean Air Act violations against Volkswagen in 2016.

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division published its accomplishments in 2016, documenting one of the most successful years in its history of over a century, including the highest criminal penalties handed down in individual vessel pollution cases.

The division successfully litigated over 790 cases and handled nearly 7,000 cases, matters, and appeals in 2016. ENRD achieved over $14 billion in civil and criminal fines, penalties, and costs recovered.

The division’s responsibilities also include enforcing the nation’s civil and criminal pollution-control laws, defending environmental challenges to federal agency programs and activities, representing the United States in matters concerning the stewardship of the nation’s natural resources and public lands, bringing and defending cases under the wildlife protection statutes, and litigating cases concerning the resources and rights of Indian tribes and their members.

“I am extremely proud and grateful to have led the men and women of this division through a landmark year in its long history of protecting, defending and preserving the environment and natural resources of this great nation,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden. “Together, we brought justice and an immense restoration effort to the Gulf shores spoiled by Deepwater Horizon, and resolution to automobile consumers and all Americans deprived of clean air by Volkswagen’s deceit. And we ended, fairly and honorably, the vast majority of protracted litigation that has stood in the way of a stronger nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and American Indian tribes.”

The first key enforcement success was the final entry in April 2016 of the consent decree in the Department’s record-breaking settlement with BP in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation in which the United States and the five Gulf Coast states secured 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.

ENRD took steps toward resolving the civil Clean Air Act violations alleged in the United States’ complaint relating to Volkswagen’s use of devices designed to defeat vehicle emissions tests on approximately 580,000 model year 2009-2016 2.0 and 3.0 liter diesel vehicles sold or leased in the United States. In June 2016, German automaker Volkswagen AG and related entities (Volkswagen) agreed to a settlement relating to the 2.0 liter vehicles, under which it will spend up to $14.7 billion to offer consumers a buyback of the vehicles, and potentially also offer (if approved by regulators) an emissions modification to substantially reduce emissions; fund air pollution reduction projects; and invest in green technology.

In December, ENRD completed another settlement with Volkswagen that addresses the 3.0 liter vehicles and is valued at approximately $1 billion. Under that agreement, Volkswagen must offer to buy back the older model year 2009-2012 vehicles, and potentially offer an emissions modification (if approved by regulators).

The division continued its robust 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, ENRD obtained the largest-ever criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution when it concluded the prosecution of Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. The company pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and will pay a $40 million penalty.