By Steven Milloy
December 18, 2008
It’s little wonder why the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list doesn’t include anyone accused of breaking federal environmental laws. It’s hard to argue that a father-son team accused of illegally importing Alfa Romeo sports cars that don’t meet U.S. tailpipe emissions standards is the criminal equivalent of the likes of Usama bin Laden or the other hardened sociopaths for whom the FBI warns the public to remain on the lookout.
But the Environmental Protection Agency has now cured its apparent case of outlaw-envy with the launch of its own “Wanted” list last week. Hoping to “track down environmental fugitives,” the agency wants to “increase the number of ‘eyes’ looking for environmental fugitives.”
In addition to the Alfa Romeo Gang believed to be hiding out in Italy (so remain alert on your next visit to Tuscany), the EPA wants us to keep an eye out for Mauro Valenzuela, an airplane mechanic criminally charged for improperly loading oxygen canisters thought to have caused the tragic 1996 crash of ValuJet flight 592.
But converting the crash into an environmental crime seems a stretch. The EPA apparently views the canister loading as “illegal transportation of hazardous material.” In any event, Valenzuela’s boss and co-worker were eventually acquitted of the same criminal counts. The only reason Valenzuela also wasn’t acquitted was because he panicked and fled to parts unknown before trial. He is, in effect, a fugitive from his own innocence -- but he is wanted by the EPA nonetheless.
The rest of the EPA’s fugitives appear to be mostly hapless immigrants now believed to be “hiding” oversees in places like Syria, Mexico, India, Greece, Poland and China. They’re wanted for a variety of alleged infractions, including smuggling banned refrigerants, discharging waste into sewers, lying to the Coast Guard about a ship’s waste oil management system, transporting hazardous waste without a manifest, and creating false official documents.
While the EPA’s fugitives certainly appear to be a motley lot who may have broken a variety of environmental regulations, often unwittingly, one can’t help but wonder whether the EPA’s Wanted list is not only over-the-top, but where the agency is headed.
We, of course, don’t want people breaking environmental laws, however technical or trivial, but there’s hardly a moral equivalence between a food delivery man who, in a panic, drained 32 gallons of gasoline into a storm sewer and Islamic terrorists who have declared war on America.
The list’s creation seems a furtherance of the Greens’ larger campaign to plant the idea within the public’s mind that all environmental “transgressions” fall along a criminal continuum.
Unlike the FBI’s Wanted list, which spotlights a number of truly dangerous characters accused of causing actual harm to real people -- murder, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, armed robbery and the like -- the EPA’s fugitives are wanted for violations that seem to have caused little, if any, harm to anyone or the environment.
It’s too bad, however, that you can’t say the same thing about the EPA’s Enforcement Division.
In September 1988, the EPA had John Pozsgai indicted for removing more than 5,000 old tires from his property and spreading dirt where the tires had been. Although Pozsgai’s land was bordered by two major highways, a tire dealership and an automobile salvage yard, the EPA considered his land a federally protected “wetland” because of a drainage ditch running along the edge of his property. Though the ditch was mostly dry, it flooded during heavy rain, and the EPA considered it a stream. When Pozsgai filled the ditch without a permit, EPA undercover agents secretly filmed the dump trucks that delivered the topsoil. Though his actions didn’t create any pollution, endanger any species or water quality, Pozsgai was sentenced to three years in prison and fined more than $200,000.
In 1997, nearly two dozen federal agents, armed with semiautomatic pistols, showed up at James Knott’s wire-mesh manufacturing plant in Massachusetts. Knott was indicted on two counts of violating the Clean Water Act for allegedly pumping acidic water into the town sewer system. The EPA publicly condemned Knott and warned that his conviction could result in up to six years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. The case was subsequently dropped when it was discovered that the EPA had omitted vital information from the search warrant information indicating that Knott wasn’t violating the law.
What is the future of eco-crime? A man in the U.K. was fined $215 for leaving the lid of his trash can ajar by more than three inches. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed last July to deputize garbage men to fine people as much as $1,000 for mixing trash with recyclables. Garbage cops, however, pale in comparison to the call earlier this year by NASA’s global warming alarmist, James Hansen, to put the CEOs of oil and coal companies on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature” -- a sentiment first broached in 2006 by a blogger for Grist magazine who called for a “climate Nuremburg” for those who have questioned the need for global warming regulation. Is this really the direction in which we want to go?
It could just be that the real threat to society comes not from a couple of guys selling a few European sports cars that don’t meet stringent U.S. tailpipe standards, but those who use the environment as an excuse to commit crime like, say, the elusive Earth Liberation Front (ELF) terrorists whose arson and vandalism targets have included homes, university buildings, a ski lodge, SUVs, SUV dealerships and more. What’s the EPA doing about ELF?
If the EPA needs a Wanted list, how about making it a “Help Wanted” list in search of Enforcement Division employees with some perspective?