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2011 column image: 
2011 column title: 

"Green" Law Enforcement Helps Protect Our Natural Resources - National Environmental Education Week April 10-16, 2011

2011 column date: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
2011 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen





As we approach and celebrate Earth Day, I am reminded of the important role of the law enforcement activities that I oversee at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ).


While Earth Day celebrants remind us to recycle more, use less energy, reduce our "carbon foot prints," buy "green" products and services, and enact new laws tailored to new challenges, seldom do we hear discussion about consistent and fair enforcement of the environmental protection laws we already have.


As the chief law enforcement officer of the State of Wisconsin vigorous enforcement of our laws is my top priority. Environmental law enforcement is no exception. If people violate the law, they should be held accountable. If their violation leads to environmental harm or degradation, they should make it right.


Firm, fair and consistent enforcement of Wisconsin's environmental laws is crucial for more than the obvious reasons. Of course, environmental law enforcement is crucial to protecting and restoring the environment from those who would violate our environmental laws. But, does it occur to most of us that responsible enforcement of environmental laws plays an important pro-business role by making sure that responsible companies are not put at a competitive disadvantage? Does it also occur to us that responsible enforcement of environmental laws will make Wisconsin more attractive to the growing “green economy” sector and the good jobs it can provide for our citizens?


Wisconsin’s economy will benefit by attracting attract and keeping businesses that are willing to comply with the law. Responsible Wisconsin businesses need to know that if they do what is necessary to comply with Wisconsin's environmental standards they will not be undercut by competitors who try to save money by skirting the standards that apply to everyone else.


By the same token, those who cut corners and violate the law need to know that they will be brought to justice face fines or forfeitures large enough to take the profit out of violating the law, and that they will be ordered to pay even more for restoration of environmental damage they have caused. Bottom line – there should be no profit in violating the law, and no unfair advantage gotten over competitors and others who play by the rules.

As Attorney General, I am proud of our environmental law enforcement record, which accomplishes these goals.


During my first four years on office ending December 2010, we have worked successfully with the Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) to prosecute 20 criminal and 334 civil environmental violations. We have obtained over $13,809,595 in penalties, as well as over $4,982,700 in cost recoveries for investigations, DNR cleanups, and litigation costs.


These figures do not count the value of environmental restoration work, or the value of compliance projects, ordered by the courts which often can exceed penalty amounts.


The DOJ Environmental Protection Unit that I direct has some of the most experienced and talented attorneys and staff you will find in public service. We are getting the job done, every day, enforcing our environmental laws to make the world a better place for all of us.