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EPA Collecting Half the Penalties Under Trump as Predecessors

EPA Collecting Half the Penalties Under Trump as Predecessors
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Thursday, 15 February 2018 11:14 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency has collected roughly half as much in civil penalties from polluters during President Donald Trump's first year in the White House than it did under the past three presidents in the same time-frame, according to research being released on Thursday.

The assessment by the non-partisan Environmental Integrity Project also found that Trump's EPA settled roughly 44 percent fewer civil cases involving violations of environmental laws. Penalties collected totaled 49 percent of the average of the three previous presidents' first year in office.

Eric Schaeffer, head of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former director of the EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement, said the declines send the wrong signal to would-be polluters, coming amid cuts in agency staffing that may reduce the EPA's ability to pursue violators.

"President Trump's dismantling of the EPA means violators are less likely to be caught, making illegal pollution cheaper," Schaeffer said.

According to his organization's analysis, the Trump administration lodged consent decrees for 48 civil cases involving environmental violations and collected $30 million in penalties from Jan. 20, 2017 to Jan. 20, 2018. That compares to 71 cases and $71 million under President Barack Obama, 112 cases and $50 million under President George W. Bush and 73 cases and $55 million under President Bill Clinton.

Earlier: EPA's Pruitt Denies He's an Ally of Polluters, Vows to Get Tough

The decline in cases comes on top of a backlog of violations of air, water and other environmental laws that haven't yet led to civil claims or settlements, including many from facilities in the Rust Belt, where voters helped elect Trump, Schaeffer said.

"These are the very people President Trump said he would help, and they are the ones getting hit the hardest," Schaeffer said.

Vigorous enforcement is key to ensuring that potential polluters know that someone is vigilantly monitoring their performance, Schaeffer said. That's critical, he added, because guarding against pollution and keeping pollution control equipment running properly is an ongoing task.

Environmental enforcement trends can vary over time. Because cases take years to develop, the bulk of the EPA's caseload during Trump's first year in office would derive from violations and enforcement actions started under Obama — and the numbers now may reflect a steady decline in federal inspections and evaluations since fiscal year 2012.

According to EPA data released last week, the agency initiated more than 1,900 and concluded nearly 2,000 civil judicial and administrative cases in fiscal 2017, reflecting a downward trend that goes back at least nine years.  

The Environmental Integrity Project's analysis also did not include criminal environmental cases, matters involving toxic Superfund sites and administrative actions that EPA uses to resolve smaller violations. 

The EPA said it could not comment on a study it hasn't seen but said in a statement that the agency "works with state partners on enforcement oversight."

Related: Polluters Penalized Less Under Trump Than His Predecessors

And EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has vowed to get tough on corporations violating environmental laws, telling Bloomberg News in an interview last October that "we're going to do enforcement — to go after bad actors and go after polluters."

The cost of pollution control steps that defendants have agreed to in settlements with the Trump administration is also down by comparison to the first year of the Obama and Bush administrations, according to the assessment. The value of that relief can swing dramatically depending on the timing of big settlements.

And critics say at least some of those settlement estimates have been inflated, citing an October settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. in which the oil company agreed to pay $300 million to resolve air pollution violations tied to eight chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana. But that $300 million estimate includes money the company has spent since 2011 to comply with permit requirements — well before the case concluded.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has collected roughly half as much in civil penalties from polluters during President Donald Trump's first year in the White House than it did under the past three presidents.
epa, penalties, trump, white house
Thursday, 15 February 2018 11:14 AM
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