• The East Tennessee Environmental Crimes Task Force Gains a New Enforcement Tool to Target Non-compliant Industry
  • August 12, 2003
  • Law Firm: Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, PLLC - Nashville Office
  • The East Tennessee Environmental Crimes Task Force (Task Force) is soon to make science fiction science fact. At the 2003 Solid/Hazardous Waste Conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Task Force announced its new enforcement project: using computer databases to identify non-compliant releases of hazardous waste and other pollutants. The Task Force is using computer databases from EPA (including EPA's Center for Strategic Environmental Enforcement in Colorado), the Office of Surface Mining, TVA, TDEC, and information from Dunn & Bradstreet. Upon completion of this database merger, the Task Force will use standard industrial codes contained in the merged database which will indicate the type of process and chemicals used by a particular business. From this, the Task Force will determine the potential type of hazardous waste or other pollutants generated by that business and potential for environmental and public health harm as determined by the location of the business. Utilizing the databases of TDEC and EPA, the Task Force will identify the businesses that have properly notified state and federal agencies of the generation of hazardous waste or have received a permit for the discharge of pollutants. Once a potential violator is identified, the Task Force may begin an investigation. Although the database merger is not yet fully complete, the Task Force has performed test runs. During such test runs, a potential violator already under investigation by the Task Force was identified. The investigation of the identified company is now completed and has resulted in a guilty plea.

    The Task Force hopes to have the merger of the databases completed by this fall. However, prosecutions will not immediately follow. Rather, the initial goal of this program is to raise compliance levels. To this end, the Task Force will announce an amnesty period in which companies may learn about their respective environmental obligations and come into compliance. The Task Force hopes to make public announcements regarding the start of the project and the amnesty period this fall.

    A company may wonder why this Task Force project should be a concern to them. It is a concern because of the federal resources dedicated to this Task Force and its past successes. The Task Force consists of 14 federal agencies who donate resources to environmental investigations. From this group, six federal agents representing the FBI, EPA-CID, TVA-OIG, TVA Police and DOE-OIG work full time on environmental investigations. Since 1991, the Task Force has investigated and successfully prosecuted over 34 significant environmental criminal cases with 57 defendants in East Tennessee. The convictions have resulted in significant jail sentences for corporate management level defendants, $1,482,230 in fines, $2,630,754 in restitution and over $29,267,326 in remediation fees. In the past year and a half, the Task Force has concluded six environmental cases in the Chattanooga area alone. Each case involved the conviction of at least one company official. Five of these company officials received sentences ranging from five to twelve months in jail. The cases totaled over $45,000 in fines and approximately $1.25 million in restitution to the State of Tennessee. Keep in mind that these successes resulted from reactive investigations - responding to complaints or tips. This project is proactive - the Task Force on its own identifying potential violators. With the resources, experience and commitment of this Task Force, companies should follow closely this new proactive project.