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Environmental Law Whistleblowers

We represent wildlife and environmental crime whistleblowers from all over the globe who report violations of various U.S. laws, and who file for monetary rewards.

Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto’s whistleblower attorneys have experience using whistleblower reward laws to address environmental crimes. Laws such as the False Claims Act, the Commodity Exchange Act, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have whistleblower provisions that can be used to combat criminal activity related to environmental crimes, including illegal fishing, illegal logging, and wildlife trafficking.

For example, illegal logging in a rain forest in Asia or South America can trigger violations of U.S. law. The False Claims Act, that has very strong qui tam whistleblower reward provisions, covers false statements on import or customs forms. It is typical that customs forms are falsified when lumber or fish harvested in violation of environmental laws are imported into the United States.

The major wildlife trafficking laws also have reward provisions, including the Endangered Species Act, have reward provisions. Unlike the False Claims Act and similar reward laws, the Endangered Species Act reward law is discretionary. However, as explained in the groundbreaking article by our partner Stephen Kohn, “Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Game-Changer in Wildlife Trafficking Detection and Deterrence,” these laws can be used to reward whistleblowers.

Another law available to environmental whistleblowers is the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS). The APPS incentivizes the reporting of pollution on the high seas. The law has transnational jurisdiction and numerous non-U.S. citizens have obtained rewards. Under the APPS federal court judges can award whistleblowers up to 50% of sanctions obtained when a seaman’s disclosures result in the successful prosecution of an ocean pollution case.

As set forth in the index of cases complied under the APPS, whistleblowers from numerous countries have obtained over $30 million in awards for reporting the illegal discharge of oil.

Environmental Law

“The availability of the award aptly reflects the realities of life at sea…A monetary award both rewards the crew member for taking that risk and may provide an incentive for other crew members on other vessels to alert inspectors and investigators regarding similar crimes.”

1:11-CR-00652 (D. Md. 2012), U.S. v. Efploia Shipping Co., S.A.

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Additional Resources

  • December 3, 2021

    On November 19, the Wildlife Conservation & Anti-Trafficking Act was reintroduced. This groundbreaking bipartisan legislation is aimed at making it easier to catch and prosecute poachers, traffickers, and those involved in the global trade of illegal wildlife and seafood products. It was introduced by Representatives Don Young (R- AK) and John Garamendi (D-CA). A key feature of this bipartisan bill are the whistleblower provisions which mandate that federal agencies offer monetary awards to individuals who provide original information on wildlife trafficking. Similar laws have revolutionized the detection and prosecution of government contract fraud, tax fraud and securities fraud. It will also provide dedicated funding for wildlife conservation programs at no expense to American taxpayers. A version of the bill was previously introduced in 2018 and received widespread support from whistleblower advocacy groups and wildlife conservation groups. In 2020, Representative Young spoke about the provisions in the bill which increase protections and incentives for wildlife whistleblowers. Young described whistleblowers as “our eyes and ears on the ground” and “invaluable partners in the fight against illegal hunting and fishing.” Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto founding partner Stephen M. Kohn described the bill as “the most significant breakthrough in the protection of endangered species in a generation. It closes loopholes that have undermined the prosecution of illegal wildlife traffickers and empowers citizens and NGO’s to play a leading role in the struggle to end ...

  • September 27, 2021

    http://vimeo.com/613139586 Earlier this month, Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto founding partner Stephen M. Kohn was featured as a panelist at the fourth annual Freeland Film Festival. Kohn appeared on the panel “Making Wildlife Traffickers Pay.” Kohn’s participation in the panel can be viewed above. Kohn discussed the successes of U.S. whistleblower reward laws and how these laws, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, could be applied to help police wildlife trafficking, deforestation, illegal fishing, and other environmental crimes. Kohn also hinted at the reintroduction of a wildlife whistleblower reward bill: “Given the success of these laws, we now have bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for introducing a specific new law for wildlife trafficking, covering all trafficking, illegal lumber, IUU fishing, the Lacey Act. This law mandates transnational cooperation and cooperation with NGOs. And this law requires that all the money acquired in the sanctions be reinvested with NGOs to fight wildlife trafficking and promote conversation. “In other words, it’s the perfect cycle of accountability,” Kohn continued. “The whistleblower detects the crime, they work with government to get the best possible prosecution, they hold the wrongdoer accountable, the wrongdoer pays fines and penalties, and the fines and penalties are reinvested in conservation.” Kohn is a leading expert on wildlife whistleblowing. His breakthrough 2016 article “Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Game-Changer in Wildlife Trafficking Detection and Deterrence” outlined the ...

  • June 21, 2021

    In an ongoing effort to enforce environmental transparency in the corporate world, the SEC is looking to set an airtight policy on how companies must disclose their climate impact in annual reports. Following serious steps taken by the European Union to bring forward legislation of the sort, the SEC published a call for public commentary. John Coates at the SEC has made it clear that the agency is looking to move forward making a decision about ESG reporting requirements in the coming months. While the major focus of the SEC’s initiative has been on the relationship between corporations and the environment, that is not the only area where transparency is lacking. The term “ESG” refers to environmental, social, and corporate governance factors that can be measured to evaluate the sustainability of an investment in a company. Currently, there are guidelines in place mandating the inclusion of this information in an annual report. Thus, the SEC is taking public comments, meeting with stakeholders, and hosting roundtable discussions about the best course of action. Additionally, they created an internal task force dedicated to the issue in March. “Consistent with increasing investor focus and reliance on climate and ESG-related disclosure and investment, the Climate and ESG Task Force will develop initiatives to proactively identify ESG-related misconduct,” read an SEC press release from March 24, 2021. “The task force will also coordinate the effective ...

Frequently Asked Questions

What should a whistleblower do if he or she witnesses an environmental violation?

Anyone who witnesses an environmental violation should immediately contact an experienced whistleblower attorney. First, the facts of the case must be carefully screened to determine if the violation is covered under an effective whistleblower reward law. Second, because of the very short statute of limitations for filing a retaliation case, it is important to prepare for a potential employment case as quickly as possible.

What are the statute of limitations for reporting an environmental violation?

The CAA, TSCA, WPCA, Superfund, SWDA and SDWA are older whistleblower laws and do not contain many of the more effective procedures contained in more recent whistleblower laws. They have very short statutes of limitation (30-days) and must be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. However, the case law developed within the DOL has been fairly progressive and whistleblowers can obtain significant damages in DOL proceedings. The AEA is very similar to the other environmental laws, but it has a longer statute of limitations, and permits whistleblowers to remove their cases to federal court for a jury trial.

Can environmental whistleblowers obtain whistleblower rewards if their information results in a successful enforcement action?

The only reward law directly related to environmental protection is the Act to Prevent Pollution on Ships (APPS) which covers pollution on the high seas. A federal court can award a whistleblower up to 50% of sanctions for APPS violations. However, environmental violations can trigger rewards under anti-fraud laws. For example, importing lumber that was cut from a protected area can constitute a customs violation under the False Claims Act. Likewise, paying bribes to obtain oil or mineral leases in developing countries can constitute violations of the Commodity or Security Exchange Acts or the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

What there whistleblower laws covering violations of environmental law?

The major federal environmental laws have anti-retaliation provisions that prevent discrimination against whistleblowers. These include the Clean Air Act (CAA), Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), Atomic Energy Act (AEA), Superfund, Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Additionally, many states have laws or court precedents that protect environmental whistleblowers. These laws prevent employment discrimination, but do not allow for the payment of rewards.