John Kroger (D)
SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has vowed an aggressive pursuit of polluters in the Beaver State if the state Legislature authorizes the creation of an environmental crimes unit in his office.
Speaking to Legal Newsline this week, the first-term Democratic attorney general -- who campaigned promising to be more aggressive than his predecessor, fellow Democrat Hardy Myers -- said lawmakers need to increase fines to polluters.
"We've relied traditionally on civil enforcement, and I think there's an increased awareness that your civil enforcement programs would be more effective if you've got a serious criminal deterrent as well," Kroger said.
The maximum penalty under most of the state's pollution control laws were set in the 1970s and have not been raised.
Kroger said the Oregon Department of Justice definitely has a "new-found emphasis" on criminal enforcement of the state's environmental laws.
"This is a very significant priority for us," Kroger said of pursuing environmental scofflaws. "We've formed a new partnership with the Department of Environmental Quality and we're very interested in aggressive enforcement of our environmental laws."
Kroger is asking the Democrat-led Oregon Legislature for $500,000 in annual funding for an environmental crimes unit. He said many pollution cases in Oregon go unpunished because the state does not have a prosecutor dedicated to environmental crimes.
Kroger's request comes as Oregon is grappling with a steep revenue decline, to the tune of $3.85 billion for the biennium beginning July 1.
State budget writers have proposed raising taxes and tapping the state's rainy-day fund to help make ends meet. Even so, Kroger spokesman Tony Green said the Justice Department is "optimistic" lawmakers will make the appropriation.
Kroger has voiced support for 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.