The Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump is not pursuing polluters as aggressively as other administrations.
According to an analysis of EPA data by Cynthia Giles, who led the EPA’s enforcement office under President Barack Obama, civil penalties for polluters in the last fiscal year declined to the lowest average since 1995.
That represents a decrease of 85% to around $72 million. In contrast, penalties for polluters have averaged over $500 million a year since 1994 when the EPA’s enforcement office was established. Even after adjustment for inflation, last year’s fines are still a record low for the enforcement office.
While EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler suggests the agency has been working more closely with companies to ensure compliance to avoid enforcement action, his claims don’t paint a complete picture.
Giles concludes the amount companies need to spend in order to comply with EPA regulations fell last year to nearly $5.6 billion. That figure also represents the lowest amount of court-ordered relief since 2003, when adjusted for inflation.
It’s not just civil penalties that have dropped. The Associated Press reports the EPA last year pursued the lowest number of criminal prosecutions against polluters since 1988. And of the merely 166 cases that were referred for prosecution, only 62 federal convictions resulted—the lowest since 1995.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Giles expressed alarm at the Trump EPA. “The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters,” she said. “The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA’s abandonment of tough enforcement.”