Desk of the DA: Environmental Crimes
There are numerous federal, state and local laws designed to protect soil, water and air from pollutants, and most enforcement is done at the state and local level. The Environmental Crimes Unit in my office works closely with partner agencies to resolve potentially hazardous conditions quickly, and when necessary, to preserve evidence for a potential criminal case. My office has prosecuted individuals and businesses for violations that include failure to report spills, hazardous waste crimes, illegal transportation and disposal of regulated wastes, and illegal sale of protected wildlife. Each of these environmental crimes has a damaging impact on our community, and we consider remediation and restitution to be important components of the disposition of each of the cases we bring.
Some examples of our work
illustrate the impact and complexity of these violations. When heating oil was
discovered leaking into the Bronx River in White Plains on June 2, 2010, my
office responded to the spill along with representatives from the Westchester
County Department of Health (WCDOH), the New York
State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC),
the Westchester County Hazardous Materials Team and the White Plains Police
Department. This collaborative team worked together to determine what the
substance was, where it originated, how to stop the spill, what remediation was
needed, and whether there were criminal violations of environmental laws. While this investigation is still ongoing,
and no decisions on legal action have been reached, this effort illustrates the
kind of interagency collaboration that is typical of the way environmental
incidents are handled here in
When an excavating contractor working at a Harrison home in 2008 severed an underground heating oil line, causing a leak of hundreds of gallons of oil onto an adjoining residential property, and failed to properly notify the authorities and clean up the spill, the contractor was charged with a felony for recklessly causing the release of more than 200 gallons of a hazardous substance. The spilled oil settled in the ground water, town-owned wetlands and the adjoining homeowner’s property, causing extensive damage. Following individual and corporate guilty pleas, the offending contractor was sentenced to jail time and was fined $35,000, and the corporation was fined $40,000.
After Earth Research Laboratories in Peekskill had its license revoked for failing a 2007 inspection, the company and its owner continued to represent that its lab was a licensed laboratory with authority to perform asbestos analysis, and issued forged New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) certificates with the same false information. Working with information provided by NYSDOH, my office’s Environmental Crimes Unit investigated and prosecuted, resulting in the owner’s guilty plea to criminal possession of a forged instrument, scheme to defraud and grand larceny, and a sentence that included probation and restitution of $47,700 to his victims.
In addition to our work prosecuting offenders who break the law and harm our environment, my office works with the WCDOH and NYSDEC to inspect businesses such as auto body shops, dry cleaners, and service stations, to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. Criminal charges result against polluters when violations are found and usually warnings are given with follow-up calls to ensure that corrective action is taken.
*2009 article in Natural Resources and Environment, Volume 23, Number 3, published by the American Bar Association.