EPA Prosecutions Against Polluters Lowest in 30 Years

January 15, 2019, 5:42 PM UTC

The Environmental Protection Agency last year pursued the lowest number of criminal prosecutions against polluters since 1988, the Associated Press reported.

In 2018, the agency referred 166 cases for criminal prosecution, a significant drop since 1998 under former President Bill Clinton when 592 cases were referred.

Of the 166 cases referred last year for prosecution, just 62 federal convictions were secured, the lowest since 1995.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Fortune in an email that the decline in criminal action is twofold.

Ruch said less resources have been dedicated to these cases, as result of “policy changes that discourage prosecution.” He said the number of agents assigned to investigate polluters also dropped to 140 in April from 200 in 1990.

Consequently, the number of environmental cases being taken to court has been cut, according to the AP.

“The absence of criminal prosecution means corporate polluters can be comfortable that they will suffer no personal consequences, no matter how egregious the offense,” Ruch said in a statement. “Nothing could be more core to EPA’s mission than enforcing our nation’s pollution laws.”

The Trump administration has taken a position of “deregulation” when it comes to environmental issues, overturning a number of environmental protections in its first two years.

With the government shutdown now in its fourth week, climate research has taken a particular hit, with some scientists suggesting that the shutdown could delay crucial improvements to forecasting models and technology.

The EPA said in a statement that it would “direct its resources to the most significant and impactful cases.” When reached for comment, EPA spokesman John Konkus pointed to the same statement, outlining a recent civil settlement with Fiat Chrysler for nearly $800 million. The automaker was accused of using defeat devices to cheat emissions tests in violation of the Clean Air Act.