Log Lunch with David Joyce '00, Assistant US Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office: Prosecuting Environmental Crimes in Federal Court

On a cold and sunny Friday, March 1, the Log Lunch community gathered for the first Log Lunch of this month. Today, the student cooks provided an excellent Mediterranean-inspired meal consisting of falafel, pita, tzatziki, mushroom farro soup, roast veggie kebab, a green salad (lettuce from Full Well Farm), baklava, and pecan sandals. The meal was certainly a good reason to come to this Log Lunch, but the day’s speaker was equally captivating. Log Lunch welcomed David Joyce, Williams class of 2000 and an Assistant US Attorney in the US Attorney’s Office, back to campus to speak about his career as an environmental prosecutor and the Department of Justice’s work in enforcing environmental regulations.

David graduated from Williams in 2000, received his JD from the University of Miami, and worked as a law clerk for Judge Gene Carter before joining the DOJ in 2005 as part of the Attorney General’s Honors Program. David explained that one of the biggest distinctions within the Department of Justice is working at Main Justice in Washington, DC, or in the “field” at a US Attorney’s Office in a different city. David worked in the Environmental Crimes Section of Main Justice in Washington, DC for 3 years before moving back to Maine in 2008. Since then, he has done his environmental prosecution work out of the Portland US Attorney’s Office. David’s work typically focuses around enforcing existing environmental statutes and regulations, ensuring that both people and corporations comply with various laws meant to protect migratory birds, water, air, and other elements of the environment.

Although there are 40 attorneys in the Environmental Crimes Section specifically dedicated to enforcing environmental laws, David’s work in the “field” means that his job is more general, also including prosecution of white collar crimes and other severe cases. However, he still focuses on environmental crimes, and explained to the Log Lunch audience the processes that the Department of Justice uses to prosecute these infractions. The DOJ’s authority to prosecute comes from existing Congressional acts such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Lacey Act. For example, the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships gives the DOJ the means to prosecute corporations and individual actors that deliberately or negligently operate ships that leave behind oil slicks. There are lots of financial incentives to break environmental laws and regulations, David explained, and he expects that environmental crimes will remain a reality as various actors seek to cut costs and maximize profits. David then shared some of the recent work of the Department of Justice in environmental prosecution, highlighting cases ranging from the selling of protected wildlife to responding to Clean Air Act and OSHA violations at an exploded corn mill in Wisconsin, underscoring the wide range of work that the DOJ does. 

After his talk, David held a career conversation at The Log to discuss careers in the legal world, from public law to environmental prosecution.