The advocacy group Public Employees for Environment Responsibility (PEER) announced on Monday that criminal cases brought by the Department of Justice and originating at the Environmental Protection Agency have plummeted in the Trump Administration to only 166, and of those, only 62 resulted in prosecutions, the lowest number since 1992.
The EPA responded in a statement to the Associated Press (AP) that the agency is directing “its resources to the most significant and impactful cases.”
- In Fiscal Year 2018 (ending in October), EPA the number of cases referred for prosecution to the Department of Justice was down nearly 60% from 2011 and 72% decline from twenty years ago in 1998 when the EPA referred more than 550 cases to DOJ for prosecution.
- The shutdown will likely cause this year to be the lowest ever — the previous low according to the Associated Press (AP) was set in 1988 when President Reagan’s EPA referred only 151 cases.
One former EPA law enforcement agent told the AP that the agency was being “gutted.” According to PEER, in April 2018, there were only 140 special agents in EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, and that number is more than a third less than the number of agents in 2003, and well below the minimum of staff level of 200 agents required by the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990.
As we reported earlier this week, the EPA did just settle a large civil enforcement case against Fiat/Chrysler for a $300 million penalty after the company admitted it had rigged its diesel-powered Dodge Ram and Jeep vehicles to cheat on emissions tests resulting in an additional 35,000 tons of pollution. One high profile case does not make up for the hundreds of other cases that are not getting to the Justice Department in the first place.
Why This Matters: I (Monica) used to work at the DOJ Environment Division, and I can say from experience that we did not bring criminal cases lightly. In criminal cases, which are already at a very high standard in terms of the severity of the action by the polluter, there is generally serious public harm and a premeditated action or extreme recklessness by the defendant involved. The plummeting of environmental criminal enforcement is a result of the President’s bias in favor of large special interests and industrial polluters. Corporate polluters know this — thus, they have very little incentive to cut back on their law-breaking since they do not need to fear prosecution. PEER has found a similar drop off in civil environmental enforcement as well. That is terrible news for the clean air and water the President claims he supports. And the worst cases are probably in poor and minority areas, making this a huge environmental justice issue. Perhaps the House Dems will investigate — they should.