EPA Criminal Pollution Enforcement Withering Away
Number of Criminal Investigators, Cases Opened, and Convictions Nosediving
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fewer than half of the criminal special agents on the job than it had a dozen years ago, according to EPA statistics released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These thinning ranks of white collar investigators are opening a shrinking number of anti-pollution cases and obtaining fewer convictions.
EPA figures obtained by PEER through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that –
- The number of special agents inside the EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) has dropped by more than half since 2003, with a current total of only 147 agents, well below the minimum of 200 agents required by the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990;
- New criminal cases opened by CID have plummeted, falling by nearly two-thirds just since 2012. The current fiscal year is on pace to open just 120 new cases, a modern low; and
- Successful criminal anti-pollution prosecutions are also slumping, down to little more than half of convictions won in 2014.
“This evaporation of criminal enforcement is snowballing in that fewer agents generate fewer cases leading to ever-fewer convictions down the road,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The spigot sustaining complex corporate anti-pollution prosecutions – which take years from genesis to fruition – is being turned off at the source.”
Enforcement against criminal violators of the Clean Water and the Clean Air Acts – EPA’s two most active dockets – has been especially hard hit. The number of new clean water cases opened this year is more than two-thirds below those opened in 2012, with clean air cases plunging by more than three-quarters annually from those opened five years ago. Pruitt’s promised regulatory rollbacks in both areas will likely drive enforcement even lower, as convictions will be harder to obtain with standards in flux.
“These dismal figures do not reflect further declines we can expect from policies pursued by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt,” added Ruch, noting that agent counts do not include end-of-fiscal-year buy-outs slated for next month. “Pruitt’s known aversion to punishing corporate polluters threatens to hollow out what remains of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.”
A disinvestment in criminal enforcement began in Obama’s second term when EPA embraced a plan called “Next Generation Compliance” in 2014. This approach relied upon industry electronically self-reporting emissions. As the VW auto emissions scandal underlines, trusting corporate compliance without verifying can be monumentally detrimental. Nonetheless, Administrator Pruitt appears to be going further, urging significant budget cuts for both EPA’s criminal and civil enforcement arms, as well as deferring to states to lead anti-pollution prosecutions, even while urging cuts in EPA grants supporting these state environmental enforcement programs.
“Scott Pruitt’s tenure may usher in the golden age of citizen enforcement of environmental laws,” concluded Ruch, pointing to the citizen suit provisions in most major eco-statutes. “With the abdication of EPA, citizens, states, and localities will have to take public health protection into their own hands.”
(Spreadsheets of EPA criminal case result details [2013-2017] available upon request)