The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Environmental Whistleblower Programs: Protecting the Environment by Exposing Private Acts of Wrongdoing

Congress has enacted many laws which seek to protect our planet’s natural resources. Some of these provide direct protection to natural resources, such as plants and animals on the verge of extinction, to not only protect them but to assist in the process of improving their condition. Other laws establish how certain resources can be extracted, transported, or used, such as oil, coal, and gas, to avoid damaging other resources or harming society in the process. As is usually the case when someone misuses natural resources or causes harm to them with their actions, the government does not have all the necessary information to effectively prosecute those who cause these harms. To incentivize people coming forward with valuable information concerning these types of infractions and violations, many of the laws enacted by Congress, which aim to protect our planet’s natural resources provide rewards to those who blow the whistle on this kind of misconduct. As an example of such a law, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enacted with the intention of protecting and conserving endangered or threatened animals and plants. This law not only protects species that are on the verge of becoming extinct, by imposing fines and imprisonment on those who violate its provisions, but it also provides help to aid species in recovering until they no longer need to be protected by law. To achieve its ends, the Endangered Species Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Treasury to grant monetary rewards to anyone who provides information that leads to a forfeiture of property, a civil penalty assessment, a criminal conviction, or an arrest for violations of its provisions. These rewards are paid from any fines, penalties, or forfeitures received by the government. Another example of a law created by Congress to protect the environment is the Lacey Act. This law prohibits any trade involving animals or plants that have been illegally transported, possessed, taken, or sold. When initially enacted, its main purpose was to protect animals that were being hunted excessively. The Lacey Act also includes a provision authorizing awards to be paid to anyone who provides information concerning violations to the statute.

Other statutes enacted by Congress to protect natural resources are: the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978, the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992, the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act of 1978, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Airborne Hunting Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the American Fisheries Act of 1998, the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act, the Fisherman’s Protective Act, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act, National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act, the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996, and the Whaling Convention Act. As can be inferred just from their titles, these laws protect a wide range of natural resources. Some protect specific species. Others, specific ecosystems. Some even extend protection to resources not found within the United States of America, such as the African Elephant Conservation Act. Of relevance, the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act was enacted with the purpose of creating and conducting training programs for state fish and wildlife law enforcement personnel. It also allows the Secretaries of the Interior and of Commerce to enter into agreements with state and federal agencies. Of particular interest from this law is that it currently contains a provision allowing whistleblowers to receive rewards for providing information on violations to any law administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning animals or plants. These include many of the laws listed above which in of themselves do not provide for whistleblower rewards.

By coming forward with valuable information, whistleblowers can not only help protect the environment and our planet’s natural resources, but they may also receive financial compensation for doing the right thing. When individuals or companies cause harm to our environment and avoid prosecution or payment of environmental fines by hiding or trying to conceal their misconduct, whistleblowers play a vital role in holding these parties accountable. By coming forward with the information they possess, the government is able to effectively enforce its statutes. By doing so, whistleblowers help hold individuals accountable for their actions against the environment and help stop these kinds of actions from happening again, causing more damage than has already been done. This is especially important when dealing with natural resources which are of limited quantities since damages may become irreversible.