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A service for political professionals · Saturday, December 10, 2022 · 605,573,984 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Public Reporting of Environmental Justice Concerns

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Environmental Justice is a principle that combines civil rights with environmental protection by examining whether all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income are receiving fair treatment and meaningful involvement with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. 

On May 5, 2022, the Attorney General announced actions to enhance and advance the U.S. Department of Justice’s environmental justice (EJ) work.  These efforts include the issuance of a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy (Strategy), the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) within the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), and the issuance of both an interim final rule rescinding the Department’s regulations at 28 C.F.R § 50.28 and a policy allowing the Department’s components to enter into settlement agreements that include payments under limited circumstances to non-governmental persons or entities that are not parties to the underlying litigation.

In furtherance of the Strategy, the OEJ will convene a standing DOJ Environmental Justice Enforcement Steering Committee and each U.S. Attorney’s Office will designate an environmental justice coordinator. Assistant United States Attorney Seth A. Erbe has been designated to serve as the environmental justice coordinator (EJC) for the District of Puerto Rico.

The EJC will coordinate efforts to enforce both civil and criminal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and hazardous waste laws. An intentional decision to violate these laws may be a federal crime. For example, intentionally discharging pollutants into a river without a permit, or bypassing a required pollution control device, is a criminal act that carries the possibility of incarceration and monetary fines.

Efforts will also be undertaken to remedy environmental violations and pollutants by pursuing actions under the civil rights laws, worker safety and consumer protection statutes, and the False Claims Act, where appropriate. For example, a federal contractor who violates a contractual provision mandating the proper disposal of hazardous waste may be subject to liability under the False Claims Act.

Other examples of civil or criminal environmental misconduct include:

  • Air emissions of toxic pollutants resulting from inadequate or nonexistent pollution control
  • Oil spills or other environmental incidents that compromise the land or practices of disadvantaged communities
  • Unpermitted discharges of a pollutant into waters of the United States
  • Illegal discharges into waters or sewer systems that threaten public safety and cause damage to our water infrastructure
  • Illegal handling, transportation, and disposal of hazardous wastes and pesticides
  • Illegal asbestos removals that expose and create health risks for workers and the public
  • False statements to the EPA or other regulatory agencies that threaten the integrity of environmental protection programs

Engagement in the Commonwealth

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico will conduct island-wide outreach efforts via the Public Affairs and Community Engagement (PACE) Division. These outreach efforts are designed to increase communication regarding identified environmental justice concerns; 2) identify impacted communities; 3) assist in engagement with impacted communities; and 4) promote transparency regarding Federal environmental justice enforcement efforts and results.

What Can You Do?

Reporting environmental, public health and safety concerns supports a safe community for all. U.S. Attorney Muldrow encourages Puerto Rico residents to use the following contact information to report violations to federal agencies.

If the violation concerns air quality, health, water, land, waste, chemicals and toxins (e.g., pesticides and lead paint), and/or a cleanup, contact the Environmental Protection Agency at https://echo.epa.gov/report-environmental-violations.

If the violation concerns an oil or chemical spill, contact the EPA National Response Center at 1-800-424-88022.

If the violation concerns a marine environment, contact the United States Coast Guard at www.p3tips.com/tipform.aspx?ID=878.

If the violation concerns harm to wildlife (e.g., pesticide misuse), contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-344-9453 or www.fws.gov/wildlife-crime-tips.

If the violation concerns the destruction of wetlands, contact your local district branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Locations/.

If the violation concerns workplace conditions, such as chemicals or noxious fumes, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 1-800-321-6742 or www.osha.gov/workers/file-complaint.

If the violation concerns housing conditions, contact the Department of Housing & Urban Development – Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) at 1-800-347-3735 or www.hudoig.gov/hotline/hotline-form.

If the violation concerns transportation of hazardous materials or a pipeline, contact the Department of Transportation – Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG) at 1-800-424-9071 or https://www.oig.dot.gov/fraud-hotline.

If the violation concerns medications, cosmetics, biological products, and other products for human consumption, contact the FDA at 1-888-463-6332 or https://www.fda.gov/safety/report-problem-fda.

If the violation concerns discriminatory environmental and health impacts, contact DOJ Civil Rights at 1-855-856-1247 or https://civilrights.justice.gov/.

If the violation involves public corruption, contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation at https://tips.fbi.gov/ or (787)987-6500.

You can also send information or concerns by mail to:

U.S. Attorney’s Office
Attn: Environmental Justice Coordinator
District of Puerto Rico
Torre Chardón, Suite 1201
350 Chardón Avenue
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918

 

For more information, please visit www.justice.gov/oej; www.epa.gov; www.justice.gov/usao/pr

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