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New task force to investigate environmental crimes in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

May 11 (UPI) -- A new Department of Justice task force announced Thursday will investigate and prosecute federal environmental crimes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The force will focus on illegal harm to the environment and wildlife, as well as human health, officials said, adding that agents will be investigating any possible associated fraud, waste or other abuse in the region.

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"All communities deserve clean air, clean water, and the robust protection of their natural resources -- both, today and for generations to come," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim in a statement. "This task force demonstrates the department's continued commitment to environmental justice and its comprehensive strategy to address significant concerns faced by communities overburdened with pollution."

Law enforcement personnel from 16 agencies will work closely with local counterparts to enforce environmental laws in the region.

"Environmental justice and ensuring that all residents of Puerto Rico enjoy a healthy environment free of hazardous waste and other pollutants is a top priority of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department," said U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico in a statement. "This Task Force will combine and leverage resources from many federal agencies to aggressively enforce civil and criminal environmental laws."

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Also on Thursday, a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico indicted two men over violations of the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. They allegedly built illegal structures and dumped construction fill material into waters and wetlands of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Las Mareas community of Salinas.

Luis Enrique Rodriguez Sanchez and Pedro Luis Bones Torres face up to fours years in prison along with fines and injunctive relief to remove the structures.

The Jobos Bay site was designated in 1981 as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. It consists of about 2,800 acres of coastal ecosystems in the southern coastal plain of Puerto Rico.

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