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EPA criminal action against polluters hits 30-year low

Published:Tuesday | January 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM
A sign on a door at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hit a 30-year low in 2018 in the number of pollution cases it referred for criminal prosecution, Justice Department data show.

The EPA said in a statement that it is directing "its resources to the most significant and impactful cases".

But the 166 cases referred for prosecution in the last fiscal year is the lowest number since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president and 151 cases were referred, according to Justice Department data obtained by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) advocacy group and released yesterday.

"You don't get closer to the core of EPA's mission than enforcing the law," Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, told The Associated Press. "We're reaching levels where the enforcement program is lacking a pulse."

EPA efforts to prosecute polluters reached 592 criminal referrals under President Bill Clinton in 1998. Criminal referrals have been on a downward trajectory since then, especially under the Trump administration.

A supporter of deregulation, President Donald Trump as a candidate called for doing away with all but "little tidbits" of the federal environmental agency.

Asked for comment, EPA spokesman John Konkus pointed to the civil settlement of about $800 million with Fiat Chrysler over claims the automaker rigged its diesel-powered Ram and Jeep vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.

The agency said its actions in fiscal year 2018 led polluters and potential polluters to take care of 809 million pounds (370 million kilograms) of waste and pollutants, a 40 per cent increase from 2017.

EPA referrals resulted in 62 federal convictions in fiscal year 2018, the fewest since 1995.