The Department of Justice announced on December 17, 2015, that it would intensify enforcement of environmental and safety laws by adding in environmental criminal counts to worker safety prosecutions. The worker safety issues are often misdemeanors, so by coupling them with environmental crimes the Department expects it can impose greater penalties and increase deterrence.
This announcement follows the issuance in September of the Yates memorandum, in which the Department announced it would be seeking to impose criminal sanctions on individuals as well as corporations. The memo is read by many to be aimed at the banking industry, but could also be widely applied to environmental violations. Deputy Attorney General Yates also issued a memo today to all 93 U.S. Attorneys urging them to work with the Environmental Crimes Section on environmental and worker safety violations. If there is active follow-through on these announcements, there could be a significant uptick in individual enforcement actions in the environmental area in the coming year. That in turn could create a dilemma for corporate compliance officers, who are often caught in the middle between the personnel directly involved in violations and higher level corporate managers.