VW Litigation, Worker Safety on DOJ Environmental Agenda

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By Steven M. Sellers

June 23 — Litigation over Volkswagen's emissions-cheating software, worker safety and wildlife trafficking are among the priorities for the Department of Justice's environmental lawyers, Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said June 23.

Cruden, the Justice Department's top environmental prosecutor, said he expects a consent decree to be filed in the Volkswagen cases on June 28 under a deadline set by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is overseeing the multi-district litigation.

“I can only talk a little about this one,” Cruden said, referring to a “strict confidentiality order” applicable to the Volkswagen litigation.

Volkswagen AG is expected to pay owners of its polluting diesel cars up to $7,000 and agree to fund a grant program to offset air pollution as part of a $10 billion settlement currently being negotiated (see related story).

Worker Safety, Trafficking Targeted

Keeping workers safe from environmental harms also is high on the Justice Department's list, Cruden said.

“Very often, environmental statutes are more powerful than” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he said, referring to the risks posed to workers engaged in asbestos removal and disposal as an example.

International wildlife trafficking also is a priority, Cruden said. “A rhinoceros horn on the street is more valuable on the market than gold or cocaine.”

Cruden prefaced his remarks with a review of litigation over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which he said was “the most significant environmental case in our history.”

“The judge just approved a series of settlements in the case,” Cruden said, but he added that three monitors will be checking on BP as part of the company's probation under a criminal settlement.

“The environmental consequences were profound,” Cruden said. “The oil slick was the size of Virginia.”

Cruden's remarks came at a conference held by the American Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bna.com.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com and Jeffrey D. Koelemay at jkoelemay@bna.com

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