By Henry E. Barnet
When people think of EPA, they often think of Birkenstock-clad activists working to protect remote vistas. The image that doesn’t immediately pop into people’s minds is one of federal agents armed with the same power as the FBI to carry weapons, conduct search warrants, interview witnesses, and make arrests. The reason EPA has a team of federal agents? Environmental crimes aren’t petty.
Take last year’s case against a facility in Port Manatee, Fla. that receives and ships materials, like fertilizer, by railcar, truck and ship. I was in my former position as head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s law enforcement division and we investigated the case jointly with EPA. We found that the company was illegally releasing particulate matter when they were loading and unloading materials. Particulate matter is an air pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act because it can get deep into the lungs, causing serious respiratory problems.
We also found that the company’s local managers and supervisors falsely certified that they were operating their air emissions control equipment in accordance with regulations, when they knew that they were not being operated or maintained properly. For this knowing violation of the law, the company was fined $1 million and put on probation for two years. If the case had been against an individual (versus a company) it could have led to jail time.
Whether we are card carrying environmentalists or people who don’t entirely understand what an environmentalist is, we need to expand the conversation on environmentalism beyond the Birkenstock stereotype. The health of the environment—or lack thereof— impacts each and every one of us. And, when people knowingly violate the law and threaten the health of the environment, it is a crime that carries serious penalties.
I was honored to serve the citizens of the State of Florida and now, it is a great honor to be able to serve the country by working with EPA’s talented, dedicated, and diverse team of criminal agents, computer forensics experts, scientists, and lawyers to protect our nation’s resources, ensure that communities are healthy places to live, and make certain that would-be polluters think twice before breaking the law.
About the author: Henry E. Barnet is the new director of EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training
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Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.