PR and USVI Environmental Crime Defense - Federal Lawyer
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PR and USVI Environmental Crime Defense

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is Targeting Individuals in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for Environmental Crimes

Under the Biden Administration, the U.S. federal government has prioritized enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. While much of the government’s effort has been focused on combating violations involving oil fields and pipelines on the U.S. mainland, the government has also placed renewed attention on environmental compliance in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In many cases, this renewed attention is leading to serious criminal charges. For example, in May 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced charges against two individuals who are accused of engaging in illegal construction and illegally depositing material into the wetlands and waters of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) in Puerto Rico. The charges against the defendants, filed under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act, carry statutory fines and up to four years of federal imprisonment.

DOJ Launches Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Environmental Crimes Task Force

Further underscoring the federal government’s efforts to combat environmental crimes outside of the contiguous United States, the DOJ recently launched a Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force. This new task force is focused specifically on “investigat[ing] and prosecut[ing] violations of federal law harming the environment, wildlife and human health, and associated fraud, waste and abuse in the [Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands] region.” As the DOJ further explains:

“The creation of the task force comes one year after the Justice Department announced its Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy and the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) within the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). . . .

“The . . . Task Force builds upon the [DOJ’s] environmental justice strategy and brings together federal law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those federal agencies will continue to work closely with their local counterparts, including the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the USVI Attorney General’s Office.”

In other words, the DOJ is devoting substantial resources to uncovering and prosecuting environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a result, individuals and businesses operating in these territories need to be cautious, and they need to be prepared to defend against serious federal charges when necessary. As demonstrated by the case discussed above, these charges present significant risks—including the risk for long-term imprisonment. Avoiding unnecessary consequences requires skilled legal representation, and individuals targeted by the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Environmental Crimes Being Targeted in PR and USVI

The DOJ’s Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force is targeting a wide range of crimes in the region. While this includes environmental crimes such as illegal construction and dumping, it also includes other crimes that are not strictly environmental in nature. As outlined by the DOJ, the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force’s enforcement priorities include:

Air and Water Quality Violations

Illegally polluting the air or water can lead to serious criminal charges against individuals and businesses. From construction and mining to agriculture and manufacturing, virtually all major industries are subject to extensive air and water quality regulations—and failure to follow these regulations can have serious legal consequences.

Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Affecting EPA and DOC Programs

The DOJ’s Task Force is targeting fraud, waste, and abuse (FWA) affecting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Commerce (DOC) programs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse can lead to civil or criminal charges under the False Claims Act and other federal laws.

Harm to Wetlands or Navigable Waters

Along with water quality violations, the DOJ’s Task Force is also prioritizing harm to wetlands and navigable waters through other means. This includes (but is not limited to) building and dumping in these protected areas without authorization.

Harm to Wildlife (including Pesticide Misuse)

Causing harm to or threatening protected and endangered species is a serious federal offense. Harming wildlife through the unlawful use of pesticides can lead to criminal charges as well.

Hazardous Material Transportation Violations

The transportation of hazardous materials is a highly regulated activity under U.S. federal law. Transporting hazardous materials in non-compliance with the various rules and regulations that apply can lead to criminal prosecution—regardless of whether non-compliance results in a spill or other contamination event.

Marine Environmental Violations

Given Puerto Rico’s and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ unique geographic location, the DOJ’s Task Force is paying particular attention to marine environmental violations in the region. This includes (but is not limited to) violations involving seafaring vessels as well as shore-based operations.

Oil and Chemical Spill Violations

Oil and chemical spills trigger a host of legal and regulatory requirements. While spills themselves have the potential to trigger federal prosecution, so do violations during the containment and remediation processes.

Unlawful Use of (or Damage to) Federal Marine Resources

The use of federal marine resources, including protected fisheries, is subject to stringent rules and restrictions as well. Violations of these rules and restrictions can also lead to criminal prosecution, and in many cases the penalties for these violations are exceptionally severe.

Violations Involving Medications, Foods, Cosmetics, and Other Biological Products

The cultivation, processing, manufacturing, and storage of medications, foods, cosmetics, and other biological products are all subject to extensive federal regulation as well. Here, too, violations can have serious consequences—including criminal consequences in some cases.

Violations Involving Public Corruption

Attempts to bribe local officials and other forms of public corruption can lead to serious criminal charges for all parties involved. In a typical case, a public corruption charge under federal law carries statutory fines and up to 15 years of federal imprisonment.

Violations Involving Workplace and Housing Conditions

The Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force is also targeting violations involving workplace and housing conditions—including violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Workplace and housing-related violations can implicate immigration laws and other federal statutes as well.

Federal Statutes Used to Prosecute Environmental Crimes in PR and USVI

To combat these and other violations, the DOJ relies on a variety of federal environmental statutes. At Oberheiden P.C., we defend individuals and businesses in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against charges under all pertinent statutes, including (but not limited to):

  • Clean Air Act (CAA)
  • Clean Water Act (CWA)
  • Endangered Species Act (ESA)
  • False Claims Act (FCA)
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
  • Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA)
  • Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
  • Pollution Prevention Act (PPA)
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  • Shore Protection Act (SPA)
  • Superfund (CERCLA)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

FAQs: Environmental Crime Defense in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

What is the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force?

 

The Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Environmental Crimes Task Force is a U.S. Department of Justice task force that is focused specifically on combating criminal activities with environmental impact in these territories. It is working closely with local authorities to uncover criminal activity and build cases for criminal prosecution in federal court.

What are the penalties for environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?

 

The penalties for environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands vary depending on the specific federal law (or laws) involved. Generally speaking, however, environmental crimes carry substantial fines, and convicted individuals can face substantial prison sentences in many cases.

Can I go to prison for violating U.S. federal environmental laws in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?

 

Yes, you can go to prison for violating U.S. federal environmental laws in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Criminal violations carry 10 to 15 years of imprisonment (or more) in many cases.

What should I do if I am under investigation or facing arrest for an environmental crime in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?

 

If you are under investigation or facing arrest for an environmental crime in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you should speak with a federal defense lawyer immediately. You will need experienced legal counsel to deal with the government on your behalf and protect you against unnecessary consequences.

How do I find a lawyer to handle an environmental crimes case in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?

 

At Oberheiden P.C., we handle environmental crime cases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you need a federal defense lawyer in the region, you can contact us 24/7 to arrange a complimentary initial consultation.


Speak with an Environmental Crimes Defense Lawyer at Oberheiden P.C.

If you need an environmental crimes defense lawyer in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, we encourage you to contact us promptly. Call 888-680-1745 or tell us how we can reach you online to speak with a lawyer in confidence.

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