Acting Associate Attorney General Matthew Colangelo Delivers Remarks at Listening Session on Environmental Crime Victims | OPA

Remarks as delivered

Good afternoon.

Kris, thanks for the kind introduction. Thank you for joining us this afternoon to share ideas on how to better serve victims of environmental crime. We are honored to have the support of so many knowledgeable and dedicated professionals working on behalf of crime and environmental victims, federal and state law enforcement agencies, academic experts and representatives of organizations.

On behalf of Attorney General Merrick Garland, let me say that the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are excited to co-host this program. The only better thing would be to be with you personally. Hopefully we can do that next year.

We are honored to have my esteemed colleague Administrator Regan here with us today. It is a privilege to work with the administrator to protect the public health and the environment of our country, including the most vulnerable communities, which are often the most suffering from the effects of pollution and climate change. Michael leads the way on these issues.

It is a happy coincidence and quite fitting that National Crime Victims’ Rights Week falls this year on the same week that we celebrate Earth Day. We have been observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week for 40 years and Earth Day for over 50 years. Both evoke values ​​that are at the core of the Justice Department’s mission: observing the rule of law, enforcing national laws to protect public health and the environment, and protecting the most vulnerable of us, including those in communities that disproportionate us Contribute to environmental pollution.

However, environmental crime victims have not received enough support for too long, and today our agencies are taking a big step forward together to change that.

The Department of Justice and EPA are pleased to officially announce the creation of the nation’s first program to assist victims of environmental crime. This program was created after several years of contacting and listening to local needs and barriers to rights compliance and access to services. We listened and learned from victims, from victims’ rights professionals, and from those working on investigations and prosecutions against environmental crimes.

The program will help ensure that victims of federal environmental crimes are properly identified, that their rights are protected, and that they receive services from the initiation of an investigation to the prosecution of the case. Both agencies will have the infrastructure to ensure that we meet our commitments to victims by creating coordinator positions for victim witnesses, providing specific training and resources, and reaching out to victims and victim rights professionals. Today you will learn more about the specifics of this program and its objectives.

Environmental crime victims have long been an underserved and often overlooked type of victim in our criminal justice system. Some are victims of large-scale, high profile incidents like the Deepwater Horizon disaster or the Volkswagen emissions scandal. However, the majority are victims of crimes that receive much less public attention:

  • The low-wage worker received no or inadequate protective equipment and was exposed to asbestos fibers from a renovation or demolition project.
  • The farm worker is exposed to the illegal use of a pesticide;
  • The family whose killers illegally use pesticides and cause permanent brain damage to children in their home; and
  • The community is near a cluster of industrial plants where one polluter knowingly breaks the law by exposing that community to carcinogens while the other facilities follow the law, to name a few examples.

We serve and seek justice for all of these sacrifices.

This government recognizes the importance of the rights of crime victims. President Biden said that as a society we must address the crime-related “trauma waves” and support individuals and communities affected by crime. It has expressly expressed its support for the full and effective implementation of the Crime Victims Act and related programs to help crime victims address the harm caused by those crimes.

President Biden and the Attorney General understand that the brunt of the damage caused by pollution and climate change is often borne by color communities and low-income communities. During his first week at work, President Biden directed federal agencies to develop programs and strategies to “address the disproportionate and adverse effects on human health, the environment, the climate and other cumulative effects on disadvantaged communities.”

The Environmental Crime Victims Assistance Program will help achieve environmental justice by ensuring that crime victims in communities disproportionately exposed to environmental damage can participate equally in the criminal justice system.

The theme for this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “Support Victims. Build up trust. Include communities. “In today’s program, learn how this unique program supports victims of environmental crime by ensuring that they are receiving the services required under the Victims ‘Rights and Restitution Act and their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act be granted. You will hear how the EPA and DOJ work with victim rights professionals to build trust by developing partnerships to deliver victim assistance. You will learn how we engage communities with environmental justice concerns to ensure that the most vulnerable not only receive services, but hear their voices from the initiation of an investigation to the final decision.

While there is now a national federal program to support victims of environmental crime, it is only part of the solution. The main objective of this event is to improve relationships with state, local and charitable victims who provide local assistance and compensation to these underserved victims. Environmental crimes can occur anywhere, and victims of these crimes can be in any community. We all have a role in serving these victims.

This afternoon you will hear presentations from members of the EPA and the DOJ Victim Assistance Team. These DOJ and EPA staff – criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, special agents, and professionals – are responsible for developing this program. They are our public face and internal experts. I would like to thank them for their work in setting up the environmental crime victims program and for organizing today’s event. I would also like to acknowledge the Department’s Office of Crime Victims, which has provided resources that are vital to the development and implementation of the program.

Thank you again for taking the time to read up on our program. We look forward to working with you to make this program a success.

Many Thanks.

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