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EPA Criminal Investigators Sound Alarm in Survey

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EPA Criminal Investigators Sound Alarm in Survey

Lost Enforcement Focus, Lack of Support and Mismanagement Decried

Washington, DC — The nation’s top environmental crime investigators see deteriorating pollution enforcement due to lack of resources and competent leadership, according to a survey of field agents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Special agents within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report an overwhelming fear of job retaliation by a management that is seen as having lost focus of investigative priorities.

PEER surveyed field agents within the EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which is in charge of investigating serious environmental crimes. Responses reflect agent perceptions that EPA’s criminal program –

  • Is weaker today than it was under the Bush administration (58%) and is headed in the wrong direction (65%);
  • Lacks “adequate resources to perform its mission” (79%) with more than two in three responding agents (67%) saying they do not have the “tools at [their] disposal that [they] need to effectively conduct investigations”; and
  • Is poorly managed (77%) by a CID leadership inexperienced in environmental prosecutions (65%), yet still one which micromanages field operations (73%).

“Polluters go free if these investigators cannot do their jobs,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting record low CID force levels and slumping prosecution numbers. “Complex corporate criminal cases require support from managers who understand what it takes to make charges stick.”

As one agent wrote in the survey’s essay section, “Many environmental crimes go uninvestigated for lack of agents.” Another added “We don’t have the equipment, funding, or support in place to make the impact that we could make. On the one hand, we’re told to use travel funding judiciously, on the other, we are sent to mandatory sensitivity training – for a week!” The PEER survey was mailed to all 154 CID agents in each field office across the country and returned by 48 of them for a 30% rate of return.

Particularly disconcerting is the strong concern among respondents over job retaliation by CID management (71%). Unsurprisingly, survey results also reflect poor morale (87%) and a belief that management does not listen to field agents (75%). One agent voiced a need “to just clean house and find effective managers that are able to make (and most importantly implement) quality decisions in a timely manner” while another added “Bad managers continue to retain their positions, and good people are leaving in droves.”

“These problems did not start with the Obama administration but they have yet to be addressed by them either,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state environmental enforcement attorney. “Above all, CID agents deserve an effective channel of communication on what is needed to enforce anti-pollution laws. Hopefully, this survey is a start.”

Top EPA management appears to be aware of deep dysfunction within CID; the agency has retained a consultant firm to advise it and has conducted staff interviews. However, the agency has not responded to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request for the consultants’ report or for its own internal interview findings.

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See the PEER survey results

Read the CID essays on most needed improvements

Look at low agent force levels and prosecutions