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Mississippi River Initiative Enforcement Announcement

09/09/1998
Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Mississippi River Initiative Enforcement Announcement

                         St. Louis, MO
                       September 9, 1998


     Thank you Attorney General Reno.  And thank you all for coming.  Attorney General, U.S. Attorneys Dowd and Grace, Director Mahfood [MA-FOOD] -- I am delighted to be here with you today to announce these critical actions we take together to protect our "Father of Waters."

     Our message today is clear: the Clinton-Gore Administration will hold accountable those who pollute the Mississippi River and its tributaries, those who disregard our environmental laws and jeopardize the health and safety of their fellow Americans.

     Under the Mississippi River Initiative -- EPA, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys, states and cities agreed to redouble our efforts, to work hand in hand to stop the unprecedented amount of illegal pollution in the Mississippi River drainage.

     This map behind me tells the story: in the past 13 months, 142 cases -- 31 criminal cases, 18 civil cases, and 93 administrative cases, which do not involve the courts and are investigated and resolved by the Environmental Protection Agency.  

     All told this past year, we have prosecuted 54 criminal defendants, both individual and corporate. This has resulted collectively in nearly 40 years of prison and probation time.    
     
     And all these cases together have resulted in nearly $30 million in fines and restitutions.

     Thanks to all who participated in this effort, particularly the state agencies and attorney generals that have worked so closely with EPA and the Justice Department in the Mississippi River Initiative -- and who continue with their own cases and enforcement programs. Together, we are making a difference.

     We have addressed violations large and small: oil spills, gasoline leaks, sewer overflows, stormwater discharges, illegal dumping, illegal discharges.  And we addressed them in the watershed as a whole because that's what makes sense. You cannot protect the heart if you don't also protect all the arteries and veins that feed into it. The Mississippi River is America's heart. And we must work diligently to ensure that it continues to pulse with life.

     Let me give you a few examples of the kinds of cases we are bringing and the kinds of impacts we are having.

     Last December, we prosecuted two employees of the Hall Buck Marine River Plant near New Orleans for illegally dumping solvents used to clean barges. We're talking about some of the
most toxic chemicals known dumped into the Mississippi River: benzene, toluene, mercury, lead, and others. The company had to pay $4 million in cleanup costs and these employees served time.

     But even more significant, this case served as a wake-up call for the barge cleaning industry. Sources in the industry have told us that they are paying close attention to their operations, taking care to safely dispose of the hazardous chemicals used in their business.

     That's exactly the kind of impact we want to have. That's the kind of progress we are trying to make with these cases. Our message is getting through.

     In another case, the state of Minnesota, the Justice Department, and EPA joined together to prosecute a case against a slaughterhouse dumping animal and oil wastes into a Mississippi River tributary. The result was $4 million in penalties against Darling International Incorporated. And $1 million of this was used for environmental projects in the area.

     In fact, millions of dollars of the penalties from these cases are going to the cleanup and restoration of our watersheds and wetlands.

     A case against the city of New Orleans is addressing the illegal discharge of millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Mississippi -- sewage that aside from being a health hazard is causing harmful algal blooms and choking out other aquatic life.

     EPA, with our state and federal partners, is fully committed to seeking out violators of our nation's environmental laws, and bringing them to justice. We've doubled the number of EPA's criminal investigators in the Mississippi River Basin, and we've opened five new EPA criminal enforcement offices that largely deal with cases in the area.

     But we also know that enforcement alone cannot do the job. And that is why it is just one part of the Clinton Administration's overall strategy to bring our nation's waters back to health.

     Last February, President Clinton announced the Clean Water Action Plan -- our national blueprint to finish the job of cleaning up and restoring our nation's waters.

     The Clean Water Action Plan contains 110 actions to address our remaining water quality problems -- namely polluted runoff and the restoration of our wetlands and watersheds.  Already
we are taking steps: Soon we will announce a new strategy to control animal waste runoff from feedlots -- one of the biggest sources of pollution in the Mississippi basin. We are increasing efforts to prevent harmful algal blooms and outbreaks of dangerous pathogens. We are providing better, more accessible information on beach closings and fish advisories; and developing a strategy to bring back our wetlands.


     This plan is based on the principle that to solve today's difficult challenges, tough enforcement must go hand in hand with building local partnerships between businesses, government at all levels, environmentalists, communities, and farmers. This way we can together find the creative, cost-effective, and long-lasting solutions we need to resolve our water quality problems.

     Strong enforcement of our Clean Water Act coupled with programs like the Clean Water Action Plan -- that is the right path for this nation.

     The Mississippi River is a measure of our health and well-being. When the pulse of this mighty river beats strong, the pulse of the nation beats strong. The Clinton Administration will continue to move beyond the status quo, to mesh tough enforcement with innovative solutions to bring the Mississippi -- and all our country's waters -- back to full, robust health for this generation of Americans, and next, and all those to come.

     Thank you.

     And now I would like to turn the floor over to Stephen Mahfood, Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and a close ally in the effort to clean up and restore the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Director Mahfood...