Home News Stories 2006 July Enforcing Environmental Laws
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Enforcing Environmental Laws

Dirty Deeds
Enforcing Environmental Laws


Sign Saying “Unsafe Poisoned Water” (EPA Photo)When you think of FBI agents, you probably don’t picture them flashing their badges and digging for clues in the name of the environment. But we do investigate those who abuse or endanger our nation’s natural resources. And have for years.

Remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989? We helped investigate and bring criminal charges, leading to numerous guilty pleas and a total of $1.2 billion in fines. And in 1992, the company that ran Rocky Flats—a nuclear weapons facility in Colorado—pled guilty to environmental crimes after a massive FBI investigation.

Today, with our overriding focus now on preventing terrorist attacks, our environmental role is largely a supporting one—assisting our partners in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Coast Guard, and local departments and task forces nationwide.

Specifically, we focus our efforts on the following five priorities:

  • Knowing endangerment—when the crime puts someone in danger;
  • Catastrophic events—such as huge oil spills or explosions;
  • Patterned flagrant violators—companies that shrug off fines, for example;
  • Government abuse—because the government must obey laws, too; and
  • Organized crime—our traditional beat, with cases often involving waste and illegal dumping.
A recent case in point: our support in an investigation of a metal plating company in Minnesota.The EPA opened a case when a former employee of the company reported that workers there were dumping partially treated wastewater into the municipal sewer system in excess of permitted limits. This was done to make the wastewater appear cleaner than it actually was.“This was potentially a significant public health issue,” said FBI Special Agent David Moldal, who helped an EPA agent investigate the case. “This metal plating company was intentionally violating their wastewater permit and illegally discharging dissolved metals and cyanide into the municipal wastewater treatment system.”

The EPA initially requested our help when it decided a search of the company was justified. A dozen or so FBI agents in Minneapolis were enlisted to execute the warrant. Ultimately, that helped lead to criminal charges against the company and its president, along with a guilty plea by one of its chemists for violating the Clean Water Act and tampering with environmental testing equipment. The chemist was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“The search warrant was successful because we had the resources to interview the employees, to secure the plant, and collect valuable evidence,” Moldal said. “We can muster the manpower when called upon—our surge capacity is one of our strengths. And we can use our sophisticated surveillance and investigative techniques that other agencies might not have.”

Making sure that toxic chemicals don’t harm people and the environment is serious business. And why we make it our business to help protect America’s natural resources.

Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.