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EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Against Polluters Plummets Under Trump

EWG: Shameful, but No Surprise
Contact: 
(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, January 15, 2019

WASHINGTON – Under President Trump and Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency has cut back criminal action against polluters to the lowest levels since the Reagan administration, according to an analysis of federal data.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that data obtained by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, show the EPA referred only 166 cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution last year, the fewest since 1988. The report comes a day before Wheeler, a former top coal-and-chemical-industry lobbyist, goes before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a confirmation hearing on his nomination as EPA administrator.  

PEER said in the first two months of this year, the pace has slowed even further, with EPA making only 24 referrals. In 1998, during the Clinton administration, the EPA referred more than 590 cases for criminal prosecution – the most in a single year.

News of the Trump administration’s shameful failure to hold polluters criminally accountable does not come as a surprise, said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.

“If you’re in the business of illegally dumping pollution into the environment, your prospects of staying out of jail and piling up profits could not be better with Trump and Wheeler in charge of the EPA,” said Cook.  

Much of the progress that has been made since the early 1970s to clean up the nation’s air and water came because the EPA and federal prosecutors held polluters criminally responsible.

Before former President Nixon established the EPA and the agency took on polluters, rivers in Ohio caught on fire and the skylines of America’s largest cities were not visible from a few miles away because the air was so contaminated.

“Since the days of the Cuyahoga River burning, much progress has been made by both Republican and Democratic administrations – until now,” said Cook. “The lack of enforcement by the Trump administration, combined with its rollbacks of public health programs, should trouble all Americans, especially those who remember when rivers burned and the skylines of New York and Los Angeles were buried behind smog.”

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