REGIONAL— Criminal environmental enforcement continues to fall under the Trump Administration, according to the latest figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, …
REGIONAL— Criminal environmental enforcement continues to fall under the Trump Administration, according to the latest figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.
Prosecution of pollution crimes in fiscal year 2019 fell to levels not seen in 25 years, as the ranks of Environmental Protection Agency criminal investigators also shrank.
Rejecting criticism of declining pollution prosecution, enforcement chief Susan Bodine recently told an American Bar Association conference that EPA remains aggressive. Yet, Justice Department records compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse paint a far different picture. For FY 2019 (which ended this past September), there were only 75 EPA-initiated criminal prosecutions filed, a low dating back to 1994. Secured convictions are at the lowest level this century (back to 1995) and half the number of such convictions won just five years ago.
“By any recognized metric, the odds of corporate polluters facing criminal consequences have reached a modern low,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, expressing skepticism about Bodine’s claims the Trump administration is tough on corporate violators. “Every year under Trump has seen a further enforcement decline.”
One measure that saw a slight uptick was EPA criminal referrals (i.e., new cases). Ironically, Bodine dismissed referrals as an example of “statistics mongering” even though she previously touted the number of new cases opened as evidence of her diligence. Nonetheless, the FY19 referral numbers remain well below pre-Trump years and the lowest since 1990.
At the same time, the number of EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agents continues to decline with only 145 on staff as of February 2019, a decline from 175 in 2012, and a level well below the 200-agent minimum threshold that Congress set in the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990.
“As evidenced by the trend under Trump, unless more resources are devoted to enforcement, pollution prosecutions will diminish further,” added Whitehouse. “Fewer criminal referrals today inevitably leads to fewer prosecutions and convictions in coming years.”