WASHINGTON (AP) – Civil and criminal heavy-handed action against polluters fell sharply in the second year of the Trump administration, according to the enforcement figures of 2018 released by the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday.
The Trump administration EPA says the agency was moving in a new direction with polluters, making states play a greater role in regulation and enforcement and emphasizing education and voluntary compliance with perpetrators, as well as fines and criminal prosecution.
"In fiscal year 2018, we continued our focus on accelerating site clean-up, deterring non-compliance and reducing facilities to comply with the law," said Susan Bodine, head of EPA enforcement, in a statement.
The EPA was one of the most active agencies in general when implementing the deregulation goals of President Donald Trump. Environmental and public health groups say that business friendly reversals pose a greater risk to public health and the environment.
Jeff Ruch's public environmental responsibility officials said the newly released 2018 totals show environmental impact "in an almost dark time".
The declines include civil investigations conducted by the agency, which fell to 22 last year, down from 40 in 2017 and 125 in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration.
Criminal fines and refunds tumbled, from $ 207 million in 2016, $ 3 billion in 2017 – including a $ 2.8 billion fine on exhaust emissions, a case initiated under the Obama administration – to $ 86 million last year .
Federal environmental regulators opened 129 criminal cases in 2018. That was less than 170 in the last year of the Obama administration, although slightly more than 115 criminal cases opened the first year under Trump.
Numbers show general criminal and civil enforcement to protect the environment and public health against a general downward trend for many years, but the decline has been tightened under the Trump administration. That includes a 30-year low number of references for criminal prosecution in 2018.
Civil penalties were the lowest last year since the EPA Enforcement Office was established in 1994, said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of that office through the Obama administration.
"Not only are the enforcement figures of the Trump EPA historically low, they are on track to become worse," Giles said.
EPA civil investigations and evaluations – forerunners of possibly harder enforcement actions – dropped from 13,500 in 2016, 11,750 in 2017 to 10,612 last year.