Padilla Pushes DOJ to Improve Enforcement of Environmental Laws

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), member of the Senate Judiciary and Environment and Public Works Committees, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland calling on the Department of Justice to improve enforcement of environmental laws in the Central District of California. The letter also asks the Department of Justice to explain their policy regarding the use of non-prosecution agreements that spare corporate polluters of criminal liability.

The letter follows a Los Angeles Times report that Central District prosecutors made more deals with corporations accused of violating environmental laws than any other office in the country, letting corporations escape criminal responsibility 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 and 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,” Senator Padilla wrote.

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

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

Dear Attorney General Garland:

I write 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 and 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 “made more such deals with corporations accused of violating environmental laws than in any of the 93 other such offices in the country.” Specifically, the Times reported that 40% of all non- prosecution deals nationwide related to environmental and wildlife cases since the 1990’s came out of the Central District of California.

While the sheer number of non-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 deals resulted in the clean-up they were supposed to facilitate. For example, prosecutors from the Central District entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Exide Technologies, which committed decades-worth of environmental crimes by dumping lead and other hazardous contaminants into the air, soil, and water, impacting mostly working-class, Latino communities who continue to suffer from cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, dangerous levels of lead in their blood, and more. Under the deal with federal prosecutors, all Exide had to do to avoid criminal liability was admit to their crimes, close their facility, and agree to pay $50 million to cover decontamination costs. However, Exide instead declared bankruptcy and escaped responsibility for finishing the clean-up, leaving California taxpayers on the hook for the largest environmental clean-up in California’s history.

The Exide case and the broader trend in the Central District raise critical questions about whether the Department of Justice’s mission of ensuring “fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans” is truly being served. Therefore, I ask that you 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 entered into more non-prosecution agreements than any other office in the country?
  • How does the Department track non-prosecution agreements?

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

Sincerely, 

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