Oregon AG seeks to add environmental crimes unit

John Kroger (D)

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon Attorney General John Kroger on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to authorize the creation of an environmental crimes unit in his office. In an Earth Day 2009 message, the Democratic attorney general also announced that his office has created an environmental crime reporting system. Under the new program, environmental crimes can be reported through the Oregon Department of Justice's Web site. "Protecting the environment is one of my top priorities," Kroger said in a statement. Kroger -- who campaigned last year, pledging to be tough on environmental polluters -- is asking the Democrat-led Oregon Legislature for $500,000 in annual funding for an environmental Crimes Unit. Kroger and his proposal have drawn praise from one the of the state's leading environmental groups, the Oregon Environmental Council. "For the health of Oregon's citizens and our environmental legacy, we're very pleased with the direction of the attorney general's office," said Executive Director Andrea Durbin. Noting that most environmental crimes in the Beaver State currently go unpunished because the state does not have an environmental crimes prosecutor, Kroger said the proposed unit in his office would "ensure the swift and professional prosecution of the most serious toxic dumping and pollution cases in Oregon." In an op-ed published in The (Portland) Oregonian on Wednesday, the attorney general outlined details of his environmental initiatives. "Instead of relying exclusively on after-the-fact fines, we intend to seek more court orders to stop polluters in their tracks, before harm is done," Kroger wrote. The attorney general also said the state needs to increase fines to polluters, noting that the maximum penalty under most of the state's pollution control laws were set in the 1970s and have never been raised. "Because of inflation, those penalties today are worth only 20 to 25 percent of their original value, seriously eroding their deterrent effect," he added. Kroger said he supports legislation that would increase the maximum fines for serious environmental violations -- such as negligent oil spills, sewage discharges and toxic releases -- from the current penalty of $10,000 a day to $100,000 a day. From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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