Climate whistleblowers

The men on the EPA’s wanted list didn’t kill anyone, but they could make a lot of people sick. They are accused of dumping mercury contaminated soil, smuggling ozone depleting freon into the US or covering up illegal cruise ship discharges.

But a story in The American Prospect magazine suggests that many states don’t have lawyers or detectives prepared to go after environmental criminals. The piece is based on an internal EPA document and was originally published for subscribers to The Capitol Forum.

Twenty states have zero dedicated criminal enforcement attorneys or investigators, according to a document maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. The Capitol Forum obtained the document through an open records request.

To effectively monitor, enforce, and deter criminal environmental conduct, states should have dedicated staff members and resources, according to interviews with former EPA staff who collaborated with state-level environmental programs during their careers.

The document was a list of “full-time employee[s] whose job is investigating and/or prosecuting pollution control crime.” Only eight states had both an inspector and an attorney. The EPA told The Capital Forum that the agency does not have minimum law enforcement staffing requirements for state  programs. Sometimes they work with state police or an attorney general’s office on environmental crimes, according to the EPA’s comment. State regulators described similar partnerships.


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Brazilian scientists reported in November that 3,769 square miles of forest cover had been lost in a one year – the biggest decline in a decade.

The New York Times reports that President Jair Bolsonaro “who has long argued that conservation policies stymie economic development, has been disdainful of the environmental measures that reduced the Amazon deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012. His government has weakened enforcement of environmental laws by cutting funding and personnel at key government agencies, and it has scaled back efforts to fight illegal logging, mining and ranching.”

At the same time, more than 150 environmental activists were murdered in worldwide last year, according to one report.

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When laws are weak or ignored and informers risk their lives, whistleblower laws can offer protection. The National Whistleblower Center announced a new program Monday to help environmental whistleblowers worldwide get lawyers, remain anonymous and get rewarded. The program will focus on the logging and fossil fuel industries.

Corruption and organized crime sound like urban problems. But illegal logging by criminal gangs is a well-established barrier to ending deforestation. It happens in countries with weak rule of law and systemic corruption, according to Interpol, the international law enforcement agency. The tropical forests are vast and often remote, thus hard to monitor.
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