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U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington selected to lead subcommittee on prosecuting environmental crimes

In an exclusive interview with KREM 2, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington Vanessa Waldref said the committee is already hard at work.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Nearly a year after she became the first female U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Vanessa Waldref was recently selected by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to lead a subcommittee focused on prosecuting environmental crimes.

In an exclusive interview with KREM 2, Waldref said the committee is already hard at work.

When Waldref was an adjunct professor at Gonzaga University, she brought her students to Spokane's Waste to Energy Facility to show them how federal laws, such as the Clean Air Act, impact the environment.

In the facility, trash is burned at 2,500 degrees, generating electricity while producing emissions that fall within federal standards.

"Knowing that our families and our entire communities are breathing air that is healthy and safe and having access to water that is not going to make us sick, those are all things that are so critically important to having strong, safe communities," she said.

It is that knowledge and her background that she feels led AG Garland to choose her to lead the newly formed subcommittee on environmental justice and environmental issues.

"It's very exciting to have a small district of Washington be a leader on this national initiative for the Department of Justice," Waldref said. "I think I was selected because of my background in environmental work.” 

Waldref will work with more than 90 U.S. Attorney's offices across the country to identify and prosecute environmental crimes, such as pollution control, federal housing issues like asbestos and fraud.

"We see this sometimes in Hanford where we have these federal funds that are dedicated to cleaning up our waste and nuclear facilities and they’re being stolen and defrauded by individuals who are not using federal funds in a way that is lawful," she explained.

The subcommittee will also work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure medicine and food is safe to consume and in line with federal law.

For example, Waldref's office announced Thursday that a Sunnyside woman and her company were federally indicted for violating food safety laws. That indictment alleges that fruit juice concentrates produced by her company, Valley Processing Inc. (VPI), were unsafe for human consumption. 

The products made by VPI were allegedly contaminated with animal feces, mold and the decaying remains of animals. They were then sold to customers, including those who used the juice concentrate to make grape juice for the National School Lunch Program.

This is an example of a case Waldref said she and other U.S. attorneys will focus on to ensure food and air safety.

"We do that to make sure that the food that we’re eating is safe and that the children that are getting free and reduced cost lunches are having access to that healthy, nutritious, safe food," Waldref said.

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