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Asheville-based federal attorney to head up new post

By Jason Thomas
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United States Attorney Dena J. King has selected Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Caroline McLean of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville to serve as the Western District’s Environmental Justice coordinator.

On May 5, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a series of actions aimed at enhancing the Department’s efforts to secure environmental justice for all Americans. In making the announcement, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland highlighted specific actions to strengthen the Department’s commitment to ensuring equal justice under the law by advancing the cause of environmental justice, a news release stated. 

Specifically, Attorney General Garland announced the creation of a new Office of Environmental Justice within the Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD); the launching of a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy to advance the cause of environmental justice through the enforcement of federal laws; and the issuance of an Interim Final Rule to restore the use of supplemental environmental projects when deemed appropriate.

“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said in the news release. “For far too long, these communities have faced barriers to accessing the justice they deserve. The Office of Environmental Justice will serve as the central hub for our efforts to advance our comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. We will prioritize the cases that will have the greatest impact on the communities most overburdened by environmental harm.”

Attorney General Garland also directed U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the nation to designate an Environmental Justice Coordinator (EJC). As the Western District’s EJC, AUSA McLean will be responsible for developing and overseeing the Office’s environmental justice enforcement strategy; serve as legal counsel on matters related to environmental justice; prosecute criminal and civil environmental justice cases; and conduct public outreach and awareness activities related to environmental justice, according to the release. AUSA McLean will also serve as the point of contact for environmental justice matters and will create and participate in environmental enforcement task forces. She will also be in charge of establishing a procedure for members of the public to report environmental justice concerns within the Western District of North Carolina.

AUSA McLean joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in August 2018 and serves in the Office’s Civil Division in Asheville, according to the release. AUSA McLean is responsible for handling civil defensive litigation in federal and state court, and affirmative civil enforcement cases on behalf of the United States. She is also a member of the Office’s recently-formed Civil Rights Team. In June 2020, AUSA McLean was selected as Buncombe County Bar Distinguished Young Lawyer for her contributions to the legal profession and the community as a member of the Bar. 

“AUSA Caroline McLean is an experienced federal prosecutor dedicated to serving the people of the Western District of North Carolina. As my Office’s Environmental Justice Coordinator, AUSA McLean will work closely with Department of Justice components, local, state and federal agencies, and stakeholders within the community to address concerns related to environmental justice, using all available legal tools to promote justice for communities historically harmed by environmental violations,” King said in the release.

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