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Nurturing Nature in N. California

Law: Federal prosecutor makes the environment a priority, targeting everyone from polluters to mountain bikers.

January 20, 2002|MARTHA MENDOZA | ASSOCIATED PRESS

The impetus to change in Northern California came in 1998, when Robert Mueller, who now heads the FBI, replaced then-U.S. Atty. Michael Yamaguchi. At the time, Associated Press published a widely used story describing the lack of environmental prosecutions in Northern California. Mueller didn't dispute the data, but promised to improve.

Mueller told the AP then that one of his top priorities was to begin enforcing federal environmental crime laws. He brought in an environmental prosecutor and hired several other prosecutors with EPA and environmental-law experience for his white-collar crime team. He also told law enforcement agencies that his office would be more receptive.

Two years later, Mueller had doubled the number of criminal cases filed. The civil division, went from collecting just under $7 million in damages in 1998 to $208 million in 2000, a spokeswoman said.

Shapiro, Mueller's criminal chief before taking his place in September, said he's committed to continuing to take on environmental cases, despite pressures from all directions.

"While I am the U.S. attorney, environmental criminal cases will remain an important priority," he said. "Obviously, the office now has a very significant responsibility to devote resources to terrorism investigations and to continue our active prosecution of violent criminals and firearms violators.

"The white-collar part of our portfolio--including environmental cases--will also continue unabated."

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