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Number of fines for environmental polluters in the US plummets under Trump

Image credit: DT

Civil cases for pollution violations under the Trump Administration declined by about half compared to the first year of the previous three administrations according to a new report.

After a year in office, the Administration has prosecuted 44 per cent fewer cases while penalties are down by 49 per cent, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) said.

The environmental advocacy group is a non-profit watchdog organisation that pushes for effective enforcement of environmental laws.

It is comprised of former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement attorneys, public interest lawyers, analysts, investigators and community organisers.

The decline was due to staff and budget cuts by President Trump and EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s attempts to downsize the agency, the report said.

An EPA spokeswoman said there had been a decline in polluter penalties since the presidency of George W. Bush and the agency’s enforcement work was reliant on efforts by previous administrations.

The EIP found the EPA lodged consent decrees for 48 civil cases against polluters totalling $30m (£21m) between 20 January 2017 and 20 January 2018.

“President Trump’s dismantling of the EPA means violators are less likely to be caught, making illegal pollution cheaper,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the EIP, a former director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement.

In even starker contrast to the previous administration, penalties declined by nearly 60 per cent when compared to President Obama’s first year in office.

EPA records also show a sharp decline in the amount that polluters are expected to spend to clean up their violations. Those investments – or “injunctive relief” in legal terms – include equipment such as air pollution controls or wastewater upgrades, but also improved monitoring and maintenance practices that can make plant operations more efficient and save money in the long run.

During his first year in office Trump tried to shrink the size of government and cut regulations, especially on the oil and coal industries. His efforts were backed by Pruitt, who doubts humans drive climate change and favours looser control of the energy sector.

The EPA last week said its focus was on expediting cleanups and making facilities compliant with the law while respecting states’ “primary” roles in environmental enforcement.

“EPA works with state partners on enforcement oversight; and results of the Agency’s enforcement work are reliant upon work that takes place over multiple years,” EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman said on Thursday.

The EIP report found that in the first year of President Clinton’s tenure, the agency filed 73 decrees and collected $55m. The EPA under Bush lodged 112 consent decrees totalling $50m in penalties while during Barack Obama’s first year, $71m was collected from 71 civil cases.

In addition to penalties, the report found the Trump administration lagged behind in actions to enforce cleanup projects.

Under Trump, EPA required 30 polluters to pay $1bn for pollution control projects, compared with 54 projects worth $3.3bn under Obama and 36 projects worth $1.4bn under Bush.

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