DoJ’s Environmental Enforcer in the Gulf: Experienced at Protecting … Polluters?
As Attorney General Eric Holder announced this afternoon that the Department of Justice (DoJ) has begun a criminal and civil investigation into the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he took a moment to name-check the officials leading his team in the Gulf.
The chief of DoJ’s Environment and Natural Resources division, Ignacia Moreno, and civil division leader Tony West were sent to New Orleans early on, Holder told reporters, “to lead our efforts to protect not only the people who work and reside near the Gulf, but also the American taxpayers, the environment and the abundant wildlife in the region.”
Indeed, Moreno is no stranger to the complex process of navigating corporate liability claims in the aftermath of large-scale contamination. Before joining the DoJ, she was a leading player in the longstanding Superfund battle between General Electric and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — on the side of GE.
ProPublica reported in May 2009 that several EPA attorneys were privately echoing the frustrations of anti-pollution groups with the choice of Moreno to head environmental enforcement at DoJ. From their story:
When Moreno’s nomination was announced in mid-May, she was actively defending GE against charges brought by the very division of the Justice Department that she has been appointed to lead.
In court documents filed in that case, the EPA said that GE owes the federal government nearly $10 million for the government’s cleanup of 800 barrels of toxic waste that GE improperly disposed of at a Superfund site in New Hampshire.
GE, with the help of Moreno, argued that it was not responsible for the Superfund site because it thought it had sold the waste to a company that was going to reuse it to make paint. GE said it didn’t know that the waste was instead being dumped, according to court filings.
Before getting confirmed by the Senate, Moreno promised to recuse herself from any GE-related matters that could arise during her tenure at DoJ. Following another prolonged court battle over Superfund law, GE last year began a cooperative effort with the EPA to dredge contaminated sediment from the Upper Hudson River in New York.