US Agency Posts 'Most Wanted' List for Eco Crimes

LOS ANGELES - More than half a century after the FBI launched its "Most Wanted" list, the US environmental protection agency has produced an eco version. Its criminal investigation division yesterday listed 23 fugitives accused of anything from dumping hazardous waste to importing excessively-polluting cars.

"Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals," warns the EPA website in red letters. Concerned citizens are invited instead to file an online Fugitive's Location form.

The list is a "brazen universe of people that are evading the law", an agency official told the Associated Press. "They are charged with environmental crimes, and should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court," said the agency's Pete Rosenberg.

In the style of the notorious FBI list, offers unflattering mugshots of the alleged offenders. They include Larkin Baggett, owner of Chemical Consultants in Utah, who absconded after being accused of illegally disposing of hazardous waste. "Due to the large amount of weapons in his possession at the time of his arrest, he may be armed and dangerous," advises the website.

Then there are the Giordano family. Father and son, Carlos and Allesandro, fled California (the leading anti-pollutant state) accused of importing Alfa Romeos and evading the state's emissions standards; the two are thought to be in Italy.

Mauro Valenzuela is accused of transporting waste oxygen generators without proper markings on ValuJet flight 592 in 1996 which crashed into the Florida Everglades after takeoff, killing all 110 on board. Valenzuela, a mechanic with the company maintaining the aircraft, failed to appear in court on charges of conspiracy; his co-accused were acquitted.

The list comes as the agency struggles with budget cuts and a Bush administration which has sought to reduce its regulatory role; under its administrator, Stephen Johnson, it is accused of bowing to political pressure. Critics say it allowed businesses to reduce reporting of toxic waste releases, halved the number of lead monitors at industrial sites, and proposed exempting large firms from reporting harmful emissions.

This year it has begun 319 criminal inquiries, resulting in charges against 176 individuals; in 2004 it launched 425 cases. The website features mugshots of just two fugitives apprehended this year.

Watchdogs and environmentalists hope the Obama administration will appoint a new chief; Mary Nichols, a former chair of the California air resources board, is a candidate.

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