The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), a component of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), presented the Federal Service Award to the Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Team, a collaboration of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training and the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of federal agency personnel who lead initiatives and make contributions that impact victims of federal, tribal and military crimes, or promote victims’ rights and services nationally and internationally.
“Acts that degrade the environment exact a heavy toll on our planet, but we often forget that individual victims pay a high price as well, and are often left to suffer in silence,” said Amy L. Solomon, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of OJP. “Those who commit these crimes do enormous damage that often goes undetected until injury and illness reach the point of personal crisis. The vigilance and resourcefulness of this dedicated team of professionals are worthy of our highest esteem and our deepest gratitude.”
Created in 2017, the Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Team identifies and supports victims of environmental injustices. Injuries from environmental crimes, such as widespread pollution and exposure to carcinogens, may not manifest for years after the crime, and even then it is difficult to distinguish between external causes and underlying medical conditions. Until the creation of the program, there were no national protocols or dedicated federal resources to ensure that victims of environmental crimes were identified, notified and treated consistently nationwide.
The program created a decision tree to identify victims, a victim impact statement template tailored to environmental crimes, an investigation and prosecution checklist to ensure victims are considered and model charging language and jury instructions for certain victim and witness retaliation offenses. The team is also improving outreach to victims in overburdened communities and ensuring that investigations are structured to pursue remedies that guarantee adequate protection for those communities. Program accomplishments include establishing a national victim-witness coordinator position at the Environmental Protection Agency, hiring a victim-witness coordinator for ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section, launching public webpages for outreach to victims of environmental crimes and developing national training.
“This outstanding team of advocates and attorneys exemplifies compassion in the pursuit of often elusive justice, giving hope to those whose communities have borne the burden of careless and criminal environmental practices,” said Kristina Rose, Director of OVC. “We owe these professionals an enormous debt of gratitude.”