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DOJ's Top Environmental Cop Announces "New Category" of Enforcement Targeting Climate Change

Client Updates

On April 20, 2022, the nation’s top environmental enforcement official spotlighted a “new category of enforcement work” at the U.S. Department of Justice aimed at “further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” In his speech to an INTERPOL working group, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim also stated his commitment to using criminal enforcement against “pollution and waste” crimes. He asserted that he would look to pursue criminal enforcement where violations implicate “environmental justice or the climate crisis.” 

In his speech, AAG Kim discussed EPA’s new regulations – issued in 2021 – to “phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 85% below baseline levels within the next 15 years.” HFC are used in various ways, including in refrigerators and air conditioners. He explained:

“[T]he Administration has announced plans to enhance enforcement to prevent the illegal trade, production, use and sale of HFCs...ENRD will be working with its law enforcement partners at EPA and DHS to support the development and prosecution of cases developed by these agencies.”

AAG Kim described how HFC enforcement supports the Administration’s focus on climate change, along with cases that “help protect carbon sinks, such as illegal logging prosecutions or vessel pollution cases that protect the ocean as a resource.” He also pledged to continue to prosecute cases designed to "protect the integrity of renewable energy programs by pursuing fraud and similar violations that undermine those programs.”

More broadly, AAG Kim reiterated his support for “vigorous criminal enforcement,” which he described as “critical to the proper functioning of the overall enforcement scheme under the environmental statutes.” Other environmental crimes identified by AAG Kim as areas of interest for the Justice Department included organized crime involvement in illegal pesticide imports related to drug production, and in the illegal movement of hazardous wastes. 

AAG Todd Kim’s full remarks at INTERPOL may be viewed here.

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