PRESS RELEASE

EPA Pollution Enforcement Shrivels Across the Board

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For Immediate Release: Mar 29, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Pollution Enforcement Shrivels Across the Board

Pruitt Pushing Polluter Settlements Behind Closed Doors for “Informal” Handling

Washington, DC — Civil, criminal, and administrative enforcement actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against pollution law violators are all on a sharp downward trajectory, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is unveiling an “informal” enforcement program to allow polluters to come into compliance without paying penalties and avoiding judicial and administrative oversight.

EPA employs three types of enforcement actions: administrative, civil, and criminal, respectively in the order of increasing severity of sanctions. Each enforcement avenue is in freefall under Pruitt:

  • Administrative enforcement cases initiated have fallen by more than a third in 2017 from just five years earlier. Numbers for 2018 are on a course to set an all-time low;
  • The number of new civil cases initiated in 2017 are nearly one-half the total for 2009, and one-fifth fewer than the number of cases filed in the prior year; and
  • Criminal cases referred for prosecution by EPA are off by more than half since 2011. The 2017 case referrals to the Department of Justice for prosecution are below annual levels going back to 1990. The pace EPA is setting through the first half of FY 2018 would be the lowest in 30 years.

“Under Pruitt, anti-pollution enforcement is on a path to extinction,” remarked PEER New England Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist formerly with EPA. “By eschewing administrative enforcement, EPA is giving up one of its most effective and cost effective compliance tools that does not require the time and expense of litigation.”

In recent weeks, Pruitt’s top aides have been promising pilot projects featuring a “more informal” enforcement approach, in lieu of criminal, civil, or administrative enforcement actions. The goal is to secure a quick promise of corporate compliance in a no-fault context.

A March 12, 2018 memo from Jeffrey H. Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, reinforces this aversion to prosecution by cautioning: “When compliance issues arise, administrative agencies such as EPA may be able to resolve some issues informally through compliance assistance programs and self-audit and self-reporting policies that they administer.”

“Under these policies, pollution becomes a no-harm, no-foul proposition in which the economic incentive to follow the law is removed and the profits realized from cheating are not recovered,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the approach fosters backroom settlement by negotiation with little paper trail. “This means that a politician like Scott Pruitt can do multi-million dollar favors for future potential campaign contributors outside public scrutiny. This is a recipe for corruption.”

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Look at nosedive in EPA criminal enforcement

See decline in civil cases filed

View drop in administrative cases

Read the AAG Wood memo

Trace exodus of EPA criminal investigators

Examine background on EPA enforcement program