More Indication that Polluters are Being Let Off the Hook

The Environmental Integrity Project recently released a report showing that civil penalties against polluters are at a 15-year low, with penalties dropping to $56.8 million in 2004 compared to $96 million in 2003. Enforcement of major environmental legislation has declined sharply in the past three years, contributing to the steep decline in civil penalties. Whereas the Department of Justice filed 152 lawsuits in federal courts against polluters in the last three year of the Clinton administration, in the first three years of the Bush administration only 36 such lawsuits were filed. From the report:
  • Enforcement of the Clean Air Act has come to an almost complete stop. Only 9 lawsuits were filed from January 19, 2001 through January 18, 2004, compared to 61 in the three years ending on January 18, 2001.
  • Clean Water Act enforcement has met a similar fate, as lawsuits declined from 56 in the three years ending January 18, 2001, to only 22 in the three years ending January 18, 2004.
  • Only last week, the Washington Post headlined extensive efforts by some water utilities to hide evidence that drinking water standards for lead are not being met. But the Justice Department filed only one civil lawsuit for violation of Safe Drinking Water Act standards in the first three years of the Bush Administration.
  • Lawsuits for violation of federal hazardous waste law (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) have dropped from 19 to only 5 over comparable three year time periods.
  • The nation’s largest energy companies (and biggest polluters) seem to be enjoying an extended vacation from enforcement actions. While the Justice Department has continued to litigate the cases it inherited from the previous Administration, it has filed new lawsuits against only three energy companies between January 19, 2001, and January 18 of 2004. That represents almost a 90% percent decline when compared to the twenty-eight lawsuits filed against power companies, oil companies, and pipelines in the three years before the Bush Administration took office. While refineries and coal-fired power plants appear virtually immune from prosecution, the Justice Department did find time to take a dry cleaner to federal court for failure to pay an administrative penalty.
  • Enforcement has dwindled even where the Agency has clear evidence of serious and ongoing violations of environmental law. EPA has referred fourteen Clean Air Act cases against power plants to the Justice Department with a recommendation that a complaint be filed. But these and other enforcement actions have been stopped at the political level, because they involve violations of “New Source Review” regulations the Administration has sought to undo.
Environmental Integrity Project, Polluters Breathe Easier-Environmental Court Action Declines, October 12, 2004
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