Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Team | Federal Service Award
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Department of Justice
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics, and Training (OCEFT) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) formed the Victim Assistance Team (VAT) in 2017 to work on environmental crime victim initiatives.
Institutional change at the agencies helped ensure that services for, and the rights of, victims of environmental crimes were considered from the initial investigation through final adjudication, in accordance with federal victims’ rights law; rather than on a case-by-case basis.
Efforts advanced, and the Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Program was announced during the 2018 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. 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.
Program accomplishments to date include, establishing a National Victim Witness Coordinator position at EPA, hiring a victim-witness coordinator for ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section, launching public OCEFT and ENRD webpages for outreach to victims of environmental crimes, developing national training, and creating internal tools.
Environmental crimes may involve widespread pollution over the course of many years, which affect entire communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns. Victim identification can be complicated by injury onset, which may not physically manifest for years or manifest at all (e.g., exposure to a carcinogen). It may also be difficult to distinguish between harm from the pollution associated with the crime and other potential exposure sources or medical conditions. Similarly, victim identification can be complicated by the employment of undocumented or transient workers.
This 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.
This program has furthered environmental justice by strengthening tools for the detection of environmental crimes in overburdened communities, improving outreach to the victims of such crimes, and ensuring that investigations are structured to provide maximum assistance to DOJ in its exercise of prosecutorial discretion and pursuit of remedies that will guarantee adequate protection for those communities.
2022 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Tribute Video
Watch this video to learn more about the Environmental Crime Victim Assistance Team, 2022 recipient of the Federal Service Award.