Last week, the Environmental Integrity Project released its report on environmental enforcement during the first six months of the Trump administration. The Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group founded by former enforcement attorneys at EPA, found that civil penalties are down 60% on average compared to past administrations.
The Environmental Integrity Project reviewed civil cases referred to the Justice Department from EPA, with the exception of Superfund cases. Looking at consent decrees lodged in federal court between January 21 and July 31, 2017, the Justice Department lodged 26 civil cases with an aggregate total of $12 million in penalties to resolve violations under environmental laws. During the same time period of the first term of Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Justice Department lodged a total of 34, 31 and 45 cases, respectively, with $36 million, $30 million and $25 million in penalties. Estimates of the value of injunctive relief in the cases, such as pollution controls, also showed significant reductions from prior administrations.
What It Means
Caution should be taken in drawing conclusions about longer trends from the limited sample, but the first six months show EPA pursuing less enforcement actions with smaller fines. With the Trump Administration proposing to cut EPA’s budget by over 30% and Secretary Pruitt planning to shrink its workforce, it seems unlikely for this trend to reverse. Polluters aren’t totally off the hook, however. States may step up enforcement activity to fill the void. With environmental NGOs receiving unprecedented levels of donations since the election, they may also have the resources they need to step up citizens’ suit litigation in the Trump era.