Prosecution of environmental violators lowest since 1980s as EPA fines plunge under Trump

While the Trump administration’s environmental deregulation policies are widely-know, the extent of the EPA’s negligence has been further revealed as prosecution cases against polluters have dropped to its lowest level since 1988.

In the preceding two decades before President Trump took office, EPA fines averaged over $500 million a year, when adjusted for inflation. However, in 2018, only $72 million in fines were collected according to the EPA — 85 percent below the annual average.

According to Justice Department data obtained by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility advocacy group, the EPA hit a 30-year low in 2018, with only 166 cases being refereed for prosecution.

“You don’t get closer to the core of EPA’s mission than enforcing the law. We’re reaching levels where the enforcement program is lacking a pulse,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, told The Associated Press.

Former Obama EPA official Cynthia Giles also reflected on the current agency’s alleged negligence, stating: “The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters. The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA’s abandonment of tough enforcement.”

Trump’s EPA has defended its actions, arguing it is directing “resources to the most significant and impactful cases.”

According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, there had been “a lot of misleading information,” regarding his agency’s performance. During his confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler said the EPA has initiated more criminal cases, resulting in the removal of “809 million pounds of pollution and waste”.

Wheeler also said the EPA did not impose as many fines because it is seeking to preemptively stop polluters.  One way the agency is doing this is through working with companies to ensure that they comply with federal rules, rather than levying charges against them or imposing fines.

“I think the more compliance assurance that we have, the fewer enforcement actions we need to take,” said Wheeler.

One such example is the $800 million agreement reached with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over emissions cheating. The agreement includes a civil penalty of $305 million — almost five times as much as total fines collected in 2018.

The EPA’s change of direction has not been popular with liberal Democrats, but conservatives such as Daren Bakst, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, favor the new business-friendly EPA.

“It is better to prevent environmental violations from occurring in the first place than to act after the fact when environmental violations have already occurred. This is why improving compliance is so important,” Bakst said.

Trump’s approach may seem backwards to many, but if Administrator Wheeler is successful, America may witness a year of environmental prosperity not seen in a long time.

 

[AP] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy WYMT]

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