The United States Department of Justice announced on May 11 an environmental crimes task force for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The task force is set to investigate and prosecute violations of federal law that harm the environment, wildlife, and human health, associated fraud, waste, and abuse.

“All communities deserve clean air, clean water, and the robust protection of their natural resources—both today and for generations to come,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

On January 27, 2021, President Biden (D) signed an executive order that directed the DOJ to develop a “comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy” in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. On May 5, 2022, the DOJ released a comprehensive enforcement strategy and announced the opening of the new environmental justice office.

US Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, W. Stephen Muldrow, emphasized that ensuring a healthy environment for all residents is a top priority. This announcement comes after last year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported progress on several environmental justice fronts in Puerto Rico, including enforcing regulations at a Toa Alta landfill known for massive contamination issues.

Early last year, the Governor of the US Virgin Islands, Albert Bryan Jr. (D), issued a public statement directed at President Joe Biden and the EPA, advocating for the rapid reopening of the Limetree Bay oil refinery under new ownership; an operation shut down in 2021 due to water contamination and noxious fumes, which prompted several establishments, including three schools to shut down.

According to US Attorney for the USVI, Delia Smith, this task force commits to protecting human health.

“Our goal is to ensure that all our citizens receive protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, play, and work,” says Smith.

The creation of the task force comes one year after the department announced the Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy and Office of Environmental Justice within the Environment and Natural Resources Division. The task force builds upon this strategy and brings federal law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Federal agencies aim to continue to work with local counterparts and communities. Including but not limited to; The Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the USVI Attorney General’s Office. Both Muldrow and Smith encourage Puerto Rican and USVI residents to report environmental violations to federal agencies.