Justice Pushes Whistleblower Bounties as EPA Abandons Them
Declining EPA Prosecutions Reflect Low Priority for Corporate Pollution vs. Fraud
Washington, DC — As federal prosecutors promote substantial financial rewards for white collar crime whistleblowers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cashiered its modest witness bounty program long ago, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This may help explain the stagnancy of EPA’s anti-pollution criminal enforcement program.
In a September 17, 2014 speech at the New York University Law School, Attorney General Eric Holder advocated increasing the size of whistleblower awards under white collar crime bounty laws, saying it “could significantly improve the Justice Department’s ability to gather evidence of wrongdoing while complex financial crimes are still in progress – making it easier to complete investigations and to stop misconduct before it becomes so widespread that it foments the next crisis.”
By contrast, EPA has no interest in whistleblower bounties. In 1990, Congress authorized EPA to pay “an award, not to exceed $10,000, to any person who furnishes information or services which lead to a criminal conviction or a judicial or administrative civil penalty for any violation” of the Clean Air Act. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from PEER about how this bounty authority had been utilized, the agency conceded that this provision had become a dead letter. EPA could find only one responsive document, a 1996 internal manual provision, because –
“Nearly all the records you requested were destroyed in 2012 because the retention schedule for those records had been met (10 years retention time).”
“The Justice Department now emphasizes the importance of whistleblowers to effective enforcement against corporate criminality while EPA remains clueless,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Corporate pollution violations are just as much a white collar crime as securities fraud.”
Reflecting persistent complaints about shortages of agents, lack of focus and low priority on complex pollution cases from within EPA’s own Criminal Investigation Division (CID), PEER points out that –
- Criminal cases generated by EPA have been in overall decline over the last decade, with more than half of all its criminal referrals rejected for prosecution. During the first three-quarters of FY 2014, EPA generated only 207 new cases, putting it on track for the lowest number since 1992;
- Despite policies requiring timely enforcement, EPA allows major wastewater dischargers to violate their permits for years without even a citation; and
- EPA’s new five-year Strategic Plan deemphasizes traditional enforcement in favor of industry self-reporting of emissions and discharges.
“Agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission actively seek to verify corporate filings but when it comes to the environment EPA has no means for, or apparent interest in, checking whether industry pollution self-reporting is accurate,” added Ruch. “EPA hands out citizen awards for all sorts of volunteerism but not for helping catch polluters.”