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The Green Life: Solving Crime, EPA Style

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August 12, 2009

Solving Crime, EPA Style

Robert Fred Smith In the night, a ship owner and his accomplice dump containers of rusted waste and toxic debris off an industrial vessel and into San Diego Harbor. Then, before authorities can say “Clean Water Act,” the duo has escaped and is sipping cocktails, fugitive-style, on a far-off island.

Often, environmental crime stories end here, with the criminals’ successful getaway. But thanks in part to a tip received by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fugitive website, an inter-agency search found them in Malta last month.

The EPA’s Criminal Investigation division launched the "fugitive" web tool in December. The idea is to enlist the public and other agencies' help in apprehending 20-some of the country’s most-wanted environmental perpetrators. Since the launch, two fugitives have been captured, two surrendered, and one has been arrested overseas but not yet returned to the U.S.

Robert Smith, pictured left, is the latest to be apprehended. Supposed accomplice to ship-owner Joseph O'Connor, he's on trial in San Diego this week. 

Cases like this affect the public’s health as well as the environment’s. Still, solving crimes against nature has not often made the front burner of the crime-solving stove. The Environmental Investigation Agency issued a report last October calling environmental crime “a threat to our future.” Agencies like the EPA are adopting strategies to tackle the problem.

Sierra reported on this environmental adaptation of America’s Most Wanted in the magazine’s September/October issue. The EPA's website provides mugshots and descriptions of the 19 current fugitives, plus information about how to report a sighting.

--Jamie Hansen

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