Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Cost of Polluter Penalties at 20-Year-Low Under Trump’s EPA

Politics
Cost of Polluter Penalties at 20-Year-Low Under Trump’s EPA
A stop sign in front of EPA headquarters. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Civil fines charged to polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration fell 85 percent during the last fiscal year when compared to the average annual amount charged over the past two decades, The Washington Post reported Thursday. That makes last year the lowest average year for penalties since 1994.


The numbers come from an analysis of agency data conducted by former EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance head Cynthia Giles, who served the agency during the Obama administration and is now a guest fellow at the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program. Giles and other former officials warned that a decline in fines put America's environment and health at risk, since high fines help ensure it is costlier for industry to break the law than follow it.

"The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters," Giles told The Washington Post. "The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA's abandonment of tough enforcement."

Over the past two decades, the EPA charged an average of more than $500 million a year in fines, adjusted for inflation. During the last fiscal year, that number fell to $72 million. The cost of complying with EPA regulations also fell last fiscal year, from an average of $7.8 billion over the past two decades to $5.6 billion.

The analysis was reviewed by the Environmental Integrity Project, whose executive director, Eric Schaeffer, said it was a good snapshot of the Trump EPA's approach, since it covered the first fiscal year when only Trump had been in charge and fewer cases would have carried over from the Obama administration.

"By that time, you should have momentum and you should be making your mark on the program," Schaeffer told The Washington Post.

In a statement emailed to CNN, however, current Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine took issue with the analysis:

"The Washington Post's January 24 article about EPA enforcement suffers from serious analytic errors. Let there be no mistake -- EPA enforcement will continue to correct non-compliance using all the tools at its disposal, including imposing civil penalties to maintain a level playing field and deter future misconduct, To suggest otherwise undermines our enforcement efforts and fails to acknowledge to good work performed by EPA enforcement staff every year."

One of Bodine's complaints was that the average civil fines calculated for the past two decades included outliers such as the year that penalties paid by BP following its major oil spill raised the yearly total by $5.7 billion. However, The Washington Post calculated that even with that outlier excluded, the last fiscal year's average fines would still be around 55 percent below the average for the last 20 years.

Former coal-lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who is currently heading the EPA as acting administrator and has been nominated by the president to run the agency permanently, said in his Senate confirmation hearing that the agency was focusing on "compliance assurance," making sure companies follow the rules ahead of time, rather than waiting for them to break the law and then slapping them with fines.

"The more compliance assurance that we have, fewer enforcement actions we need to take," he told the Senate, according to CNN.

On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will be so closely aligned that they will appear as a "double planet." NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory / YouTube

The night sky has a special treat in store for stargazers this winter solstice.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Rough handling can result in birds becoming injured before slaughter. Courtesy of Mercy for Animals

By Dena Jones

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was sued three times this past summer for shirking its responsibility to protect birds from egregious welfare violations and safeguard workers at slaughterhouses from injuries and the spread of the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during Arctic Bird Fest on June 25, 2019. Lisa Hupp / USFWS

By Julia Conley

Conservation campaigners on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of taking a "wrecking ball" to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the White House announced plans to move ahead with the sale of drilling leases in the 19 million-acre coastal preserve, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition to oil and gas extraction there.

Read More Show Less
The Bond Fire, started by a structure fire that extended into nearby vegetation on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 in Silverado, CA. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

Hot, dry and windy conditions fueled a wildfire southeast of Los Angeles Thursday that injured two firefighters and forced 25,000 to flee their homes.

Read More Show Less
Hospital workers evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital during the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018 in Paradise, California. People in 128 countries have experienced an increased exposure to wildfires, a new Lancet report finds. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The climate crisis already has a death toll, and it will get worse if we don't act to reduce emissions.

Read More Show Less