Crime unit is created
to go after polluters

The new unit is a state
and federal cooperative effort

Polluters beware: If you harm the environment, the state and federal governments will come after you.

Gov. Linda Lingle announced the creation of a new Environmental Crimes Unit within the Department of the Attorney General yesterday to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes that pose a substantial risk to public health and the environment. The unit is a cooperative effort between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"And while we will always attempt to make certain people are properly educated so they are able comply with the law, we also wanted to be very clear that when they don't comply with the law, there will be consequences," Lingle said.

Lingle said the unit helps her fulfill her promise to make the environment a priority in her administration this year. She is also asking the Legislature to make the intentional improper disposal of solid waste a felony.

"Some people are only deterred by the credible threat of jail time," said Laurence Lau, deputy director of the state Department of Health.

The Health Department is contributing two investigators, a special agent for environmental investigations and a criminal environmental health specialist to the unit.

House Bill 2375 makes improper solid-waste disposal a Class C felony, which carries a maximum five-year prison term. The maximum fine for a Class C felony is $10,000, but the bill would allow a fine of up to $50,000 for each separate offense.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett is optimistic state lawmakers will give the bill final approval before the end of the legislative session.

"People violate the environmental laws because it is economically profitable for them to do so. The only way that we can deter this type of offense is to make the penalty more serious than the benefit," Bennett said.

Lawmakers have their own initiatives for going after polluters. They are expected to give final approval to Senate Bill 3092, CD1, which offers the public incentives for reporting illegal dumpers.

Rep. Tommy Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said lawmakers recognize that enforcement is a problem when it comes to illegal dumping.

"Empowering citizens with incentives to report these activities can significantly decrease the amount of illegal dumping throughout the state," he said.


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