Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit
The Attorney General’s Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit (CEP) works to protect Washingtonians and the environment they live in by bringing affirmative civil and criminal environmental litigation on behalf of the state under the Attorney General’s independent authority. Attorney General Ferguson has made environmental issues and prosecuting environmental crimes a priority of his administration. Since 2013, he has brought environmental prosecutions leading to over 25 criminal convictions and fines, penalties, and restitution orders totaling in excess of $1,000,000. The Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit also engages in significant civil litigation, under both state and federal law, targeting activities that place human health and the environment at risk.
Under state law, the Attorney General appoints an Assistant Attorney General from the Counsel for Environmental Protection Unit to serve as Counsel for the Environment, representing the public and its interest in protecting the environment when it comes to proposed developments of large, non-hydro energy facilities in Washington State.
Washington v. Monsanto Corp. (King County Superior Court and U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington): Washington State is the first state in the nation to bring legal claims against the Monsanto Corporation for legacy contamination from the production, sale, use, and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Washington alleges that Monsanto knew of the environmental and human-health harms posed by its continued production and sale of PCBs, as well as their persistence in the environment, but that Monsanto continued to do so in order to maximize its profits. The lawsuit is pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
State v. Cayo (Mason County District Court): Washington obtained a conviction against a man who filled and altered the course of the Tahuya River in Mason County. Mr. Cayo’s actions caused significant damage to habitat and wildlife, including endangered runs of salmon and steelhead, in violation of the water pollution control act and the shoreline management act. Mr. Cayo received jail time, suspended jail time, and was ordered to pay restitution to make up for the harm he caused the river.
Washington v. Moniz (Perry) (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington): Along with Hanford Challenge, a Hanford workers’ rights watchdog organization, and United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local No. 598, Washington sued the Department of Energy over worker exposures to highly toxic tank vapors emanating from mixed nuclear and chemical wastes stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The state alleges that Energy’s practice of allowing untreated vapors from the tanks to escape and come into contact with Hanford workers creates an eminent and substantial endangerment under the federal Resource and Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). The lawsuit is pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
State v. George Campbell and Broadband Environmental Service, Inc. (King County Superior Court): Washington obtained a guilty plea to misdemeanor and felony charges over falsified water quality data. From 2012-2014, George Campbell and his company, Broadband Environmental Service, Inc., faked water quality data in reports related to reclaimed water used in fire-training exercises. Because of the falsification, contaminated water that did not meet state standards, including for fecal coliform, was allowed to come into contact with firefighters. Mr. Campbell received a suspended jail sentence, two years of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution and fines.
Washington, et al. v. Pruitt (9th Circuit Court of Appeals): Washington, along with several other states and numerous environmental groups, have filed suit against the EPA for the EPA’s failure to appropriately regulate use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. EPA’s inaction comes despite the fact that its own risk assessments show that chlorpyrifos harms children’s brains at even low levels from use on foods and/or presence in groundwater supplies. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Washington and other petitioner states and organizations argue that EPA cannot maintain existing chlorpyrifos tolerances in light of the risk. Multiple petitions challenging EPA’s inaction are pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
State v. Ryan Lewis and Cleaner Pressure Washing, LLC (Pierce County Superior Court): Washington obtained a guilty plea from an individual and company charged with defrauding a public utility, unlawful discharge of hazardous substances, and reckless endangerment. The charges stemmed from operation of a truck washing service, Cleaner Pressure Washing, LLC, by its owner, Ryan Lewis. Mr. Lewis’ business discharged highly acidic and zinc-laden waste water both from the property and into an illegal connection to the sanitary sewer line. A worker also fell into an open catch basis filled with hydrofluoric acid. Mr. Lewis and his company pled guilty to violations of the water pollution control act and the hazardous waste management act and received suspended jail time, fines, and restitution.
California v. Office of Natural Resource Revenue; California v. Bureau of Land Management (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California): Washington led a multi-state amicus effort in support of a lawsuit challenging two illegal rule repeal efforts by the United States Department of Interior. Both cases involved illegal use of the Administrative Procedures Act to roll back a rule related to coal extraction on federal land and a rule promulgated to reduce methane gas releases from oil and gas extraction. In both cases, the court invalidated the challenged actions.
Assistance Complying With Environmental Laws
The Washington Attorney General’s Office cannot provide legal advice to private citizens. However, the Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA) has a wealth of information on environmental permitting procedures. ORIA has a number of online resources, including a project questionnaire to easily determine what permits, licenses, or approvals are necessary for a particular project. ORIA can also answer specific questions about Washington State licenses, approvals, and permits.
ORIA’s website for environmental permitting can be accessed at: http://www.oria.wa.gov/site/alias__oria/347/default.aspx
More about Environmental Crimes
If you have knowledge of suspected environmental crimes in Washington state, fill out this report form.
This form is intended to inform the Attorney General's Office about potential environmental crimes but is not intended to be a substitute for reporting spills, leaks or other potentially illegal activity to the Washington Emergency Management Division, the National Response Center, or local emergency responders.
To report an emergency, please dial 911 immediately. To report a spill, leak, or discharge, call Washington's Emergency Management Division at 1-800-258-5990.
For more information about Washington state environmental crimes, their investigation, and prosecution read the fact sheet here.