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Defendants accused of environmental crimes have discovered an unusual result in the federal government’s recent aggressive approach to enforcement.  

More cases are going to trial in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court Booker decision removing mandatory sentencing guidelines, and some judges have grown more reluctant to sentence environmental criminals to jail or impose sanctions.  This phenomenon, as well as the general expansion of environmental crimes liability, will be the subject of this year’s ALI-ABA Annual Conference on Environmental Crimes next month.

The two-day conference devoted to policy issues that drive environmental crimes enforcement will be held on May 18-19 in Washington, D.C. at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel.  The planning chairs are Venable LLP partners Judson Starr and Joseph “Jerry” Block, both of whom have served as Chiefs of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

“Environmental crimes are at the vanguard of criminal prosecutions for corporate misconduct, and they highlight the cutting edge issues in white-collar litigation,” said Mr. Starr, co-head of Venable’s Environmental Group.

“The last few years have seen environmental criminal enforcement grow increasingly complex.  New laws in a number of seemingly unconnected fields, including OSHA, the Endangered Species Act and Sarbanes-Oxley, have all worked to create a new ‘target rich’ environment of industries not traditionally the subject of criminal prosecutions,” said Mr. Starr. 

The featured speakers at this year’s panels are Granta Nakayama, Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement Compliance and Assurance, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., and Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

“More companies than ever have to be concerned about violations,” said Mr. Block. “Many businesses grew less vigilant about EPA and DOJ enforcement after 9/11 as the government shifted resources away from environmental crimes, but as we’ve seen recently, prosecutors have come back strong in investigating and prosecuting businesses in such areas as ocean dumping, hazardous materials storage and transportation, plant safety and general industry conditions.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is also considering the scope of the Clean Water Act in the context of wetlands prosecutions.  Its decision may fundamentally alter the balance between federal and state environmental enforcement.

Among other faculty presenting at the two-day ALI-ABA event are David M. Uhlmann, Chief, Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., Alice Martin, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and many other federal prosecutors and nationally recognized defense counsel.

Mr. Starr was the first Director and Chief of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section (1978-1988). While at the department, he developed and directed the DOJ’s environmental crimes programs and policies. He also served as the DOJ’s chief spokesperson for the program and as the government’s lead coordinator for all federal prosecutors and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. He has been cited in Chambers USA ranking of leading business lawyers as “the gold standard for white-collar crime.”

Mr. Starr is co-author, with Mr. Block and others, of the Environmental Law Institute's Environmental Crimes Deskbook, (1995) and the BNA's Environmental Criminal Liability: Avoiding and Defending Enforcement Actions (1995). Additionally, he is the author of the Chamber of Shipping of America's Environmental Criminal Liability in theUnited States: A Handbook for the Marine Industry (2000) and The Knock on the Door: Preparing for and Responding to a Criminal Investigation, American Chemistry Council (1991, updated and reprinted 1999).

Mr. Block has served the U.S. Senate as counsel in congressional investigations.  He received a presidential appointment to the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee to provide policy advice to the U.S. Trade Representative and the Administrator of the EPA on issues involving trade and the environment.

One of the American Lawyer’s top 100 law firms, Venable LLP has attorneys practicing in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property and government affairs. Venable serves corporate, institutional, governmental, nonprofit and individual clients throughout the U.S. and around the world from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and offices in California, Maryland, New York and Virginia.