News and Events Involving Environmental Law, Published by Chicago Environmental Attorney Dave Scriven-Young
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  • Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Convictions of Environmental Activists under Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

    Posted by on November 10, 2017
    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the federal government’s ability to criminally prosecute environmental activists who destroy property under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (“AETA”). In United States v. Johnson, the defendants travelled from Los Angeles, California to a mink farm in Morris, Illinois.  The mink farm was in the business of breeding, raising,...
  • Illinois Pollution Control Board Announces Appointments & Other News

    Posted by on August 15, 2017
    The Illinois Pollution Control Board recently issued its Environmental Register for August 2017.  The Board has the authority to adopt environmental standards and regulations for the State of Illinois and to adjudicate contested cases arising from the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and its implementing regulations. The Environmental Register summarizes the Board’s work for the past ...
  • Manufacturer Settles State Air Pollution Enforcement Action for $235,000

    Posted by on February 17, 2017
    The Illinois Attorney General's Office recently settled an environmental enforcement action concerning a calcined coke plant located at 12187 East 950th Avenue in Robinson, Crawford County, Illinois.  Calcined Petroleum Coke is a critical ingredient in the production of aluminum. The enforcement action sought civil penalties for alleged violations of the air pollution provisions of the Illino...
  • Illinois Pollution Control Board Releases Environmental Register for January 2017

    Posted by on January 23, 2017
    The Illinois Pollution Control Board recently issued its Environmental Register for January 2017.  The Environmental Register summarizes the Board's work for the past six months and provides a rulemaking update, appellate update, summary of actions of the Board, the Board's calendar, and listings of community water supplies that have been designated with the labels "restricted status" or critical...
  • Toxics Release Inventory Analysis Shows Good News Nationally, Mixed Bag for Illinois

    Posted by on January 17, 2017
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its annual 2015 Toxics Release Inventory ("TRI") National Analysis, which tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.  This information is gathered from American facilities in different industries, which must report annually on how much of each chemical is released to the environ...
  • New Law Countdown #3: Amendments to Illinois Environmental Justice Act

    Posted by on January 11, 2017
    Counting down new Illinois environmental laws that took effect on January 1, 2017 is Public Act 99-0541, which makes changes to the composition of the Illinois Commission on Environmental Justice.  The function of the Commission is to "advise State entities on environmental justice and related community issues, review and analyze the impact of current State laws and policies on the issue of envir...
  • New Member Appointed to Illinois Pollution Control Board

    Posted by on January 6, 2017
    On December 12, Governor Bruce Rauner appointed Cynthia Santos to the Board.  Santos comes to the Board after serving for 20 years as a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.  From her official biography: "Board Member Santos was appointed to the Board by Governor Bruce Rauner in December 2016.  Before joining the Board, Ms. Santos served 20 years as an elected Commissi...

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    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the federal government’s ability to criminally prosecute environmental activists who destroy property under the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (“AETA”).

    In United States v. Johnson, the defendants travelled from Los Angeles, California to a mink farm in Morris, Illinois. The mink farm was in the business of breeding, raising, and selling minks to fur manufacturers. At the mink farm, the defendants released approximately 2000 minks from their cages. They also removed portions of the fence surrounding the mink farm to help the minks escape, and they destroyed the minks’ breeding cards, which were needed to sell the minks to a furrier. In addition, they poured caustic substances on two farm vehicles and spray-painted the words “Liberation is Love” on a barn. The vandalism caused between $120,000 and $200,000 worth of damage. The defendants then began traveling to a fox farm in Roanoke, Illinois, which bred foxes to sell to fur manufacturers. They planned to damage the fox farm as well, but they were arrested by local law enforcement before they arrived at the fox farm. The defendants were charged in state court with possession of burglary tools and were convicted. They were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

    Then, the defendants were charged with violating the AETA by the federal government. Count I of the indictment alleged that they conspired to travel in interstate commerce for the purpose of damaging and interfering with the operation of an animal enterprise, and in connection with that purpose, damaged the property of an animal enterprise. Count II alleged that the defendants damaged real and personal property used by an animal enterprise. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment against them, asserting that the AETA was facially overbroad, was unconstitutionally vague, and violated substantive due process because it labeled persons who committed the act as “terrorists”. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss.

    The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling that rejected all of the defendants’ arguments. In particular, the defendants suggested that the AETA prohibited advocacy that caused damage to only intangible property such as profits or goodwill. The court rejected that argument and held that the AETA prohibited destruction of or damage to tangible items and property owned by the animal enterprise. In fact, the court looked at the legislative history of the AETA, which reinforced the conclusion that it was not intended to criminalize speech or expressive conduct that caused damage only to the animal enterprise’s profits or goodwill. Several legislators made statements indicating that, while the statute was being passed to combat the violence being perpetrated against animal enterprises as well as people and entities connected to animal enterprises, Congress was aware of the importance of protecting the First Amendment right to engage in lawful protest against animal enterprises. In particular, the court looked at a speech by Senator Feinstein stating: “I fully recognize that peaceful picketing and public demonstrations against animal testing should be recognized as part of our valuable and sacred right to free expression. For this reason, all conduct protected by the First Amendment is expressly excluded from the scope of this legislation. This law effectively protects the actions of the law-abiding protester while carefully distinguishing the criminal activity of extremists.” In summary, the court found that the text of the statute as well as the legislative history made clear that the statute does not criminalize speech or expressive conduct that causes damage only to intangible profits or goodwill of an animal enterprise.

    The Seventh Circuit had an easy task in this case, deciding to interpret the statute to criminalize destructive conduct but keeping the door open to reasonable protests that do not harm private property. Environmental activists need to be aware of this line in the sand that has been drawn by Congress and the courts.
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