Since President Trump took office in January, enforcement of environmental laws has dropped dramatically, compared with past administrations. A study released by the Environmental Integrity Project finds that $12 million in civil penalties have been collected from violators in 26 cases between January and the end of July.
That's significantly less than the number of cases prosecuted and the penalties collected under the same six month period by the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations. Under Barack Obama, the Justice Department prosecuted 34 cases, collecting $36 million in the time period. Under George W. Bush, 31 cases were lodged, bringing in $30 million in penalties. Under Bill Clinton, there were 45 cases filed, with penalties totaling $25 million.
So far, penalties collected by Trump's EPA are 60 percent lower than the average of the three previous administrations.
"President Trump campaigned on a promise of 'law and order,' but apparently law enforcement for big polluters is not what he had in mind," said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA. "The early returns show fewer cases with smaller penalties for violations of environmental law. If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste."
The analysis by Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan watchdog group made up of former EPA officials, looked at civil environmental law cases referred to the Justice Department by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The group is also studying Superfund cases and criminal environmental law prosecutions under the Trump administration and plans later reports on those enforcement actions. Most environmental law violations are resolved by consent decrees, which may take months or years to negotiate. But the Environmental Integrity Project says the number and the type of cases filed by an administration in its first months give an indication of how aggressive it will be in enforcing environmental laws.