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Bipartisan group pushes Senate to confirm environmental prosecutor to key EPA post

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) logo is displayed on a door at its headquarters on March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) logo is displayed on a door at its headquarters on March 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

A bipartisan group of former Justice Department officials is urging the Senate to advance the nomination of former federal prosecutor David Uhlmann to lead a major office in the Environmental Protection Agency that fights pollution through the legal system.

The officials, who worked in senior roles under the last six presidents and have deep experience in environmental legal practice, said a "strong partnership" between the EPA and the Justice Department is essential for public health and law enforcement purposes.

The EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance "protects our communities from harmful pollution and ensures a level-playing field so that unscrupulous polluters do not have a competitive advantage over law-abiding companies," they wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY.

Uhlmann, who served for 17 years as a federal prosecutor focused on environmental issues before becoming a law professor at the University of Michigan and leading the the Environmental Crimes Project, "will provide fair and principled leadership" to that office, the officials wrote.

During his tenure at Justice, Uhlmann prosecuted violators of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

He led several cases that rose to national prominence, including a criminal trial that focused on residents of West Memphis, who lived next to a hazardous waste site for years. Uhlmann also tried a case in Idaho, where a 20-year-old suffered permanent brain damage after his company forced him to illegally dispose of cyanide waste without proper safety gear.

"I have devoted my career to seeking justice for communities exposed to harmful pollution and ensuring that all Americans can breathe clean air and drink clean water," Uhlmann testified last year. "Our nation's environmental laws provide exceptional tools for improving the lives of hard working Americans and meeting our obligations as stewards of the environment for future generations."

Earlier this month, in partnership with the EPA, the DOJ launched a new office of environmental justice. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the unit would "prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm."

The White House formally nominated Uhlmann for the EPA post in June 2021. Advocates want to see the Senate act soon before it breaks for midterm election campaigns and turns to other priorities.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.