The Trump administration has made a mission out of dismantling any regulations that impact the nation’s most rapacious corporations, citing the burden they’ve been placing on the growth of the economy. The economy, however, has been on a steady upward trend since 2009 and passed the pre-Bush recession levels back in 2012, all with those regulations still in place.
Since Trump took office and appointed Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the anti-regulatory fervor has taken a huge toll on the enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws that are still on the books, according to an article in The New York Times today. The Times examined enforcement data from the EPA from the Bush era through the current regime and found that the Trump/Pruitt EPA has begun to abandon its responsibilities to enforce the country’s environmental laws.
“During the first nine months under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. started about 1,900 cases, about one-third fewer than the number under President Barack Obama’s first E.P.A. director and about one-quarter fewer than under President George W. Bush’s over the same time period.”
“In addition, the agency sought civil penalties of about $50.4 million from polluters for cases initiated under Mr. Trump. Adjusted for inflation, that is about 39 percent of what the Obama administration sought and about 70 percent of what the Bush administration sought over the same time period.’
This kid-glove treatment of businesses undermining the health of America’s citizens demonstrates a policy of leniency that represents crony capitalism at its worst. Formerly, the EPA could and would use injunctive relief to force factories to retrofit their facilities to reduce their output of pollutants.
Now, however, internal documents reviewed by The NY Times show that “E.P.A. enforcement officers across the country no longer have the authority to order certain air and water pollution tests, known as requests for information, without receiving permission from Washington.” These tests are crucial to bringing charges against companies that are violating environmental regulations.
One of the factors in the slowdown of enforcement actions by the EPA is the purposeful downsizing of the agency by the Trump administration. Over 700 employees have left the agency since Trump took office. Those that remain are often demoralized by the sudden about-face the agency has taken in its attitude towards corporate polluters.
“Certain people who are polluting are doing it with impunity right now and I think it is horrible,” said Nicole Cantello, an E.P.A. lawyer in the Chicago office, who has worked at the agency for 26 years.
Granta Nakayama, a former Bush administration EPA lawyer, said:
“If you’re not filing cases, the cop’s not on the beat,” he said. “Or has the cop been taken off the beat?”
Cynthia Giles, the former assistant administrator for the E.P.A.’s enforcement office during the Obama administration, had this to say:
“The Pruitt E.P.A. is cratering on the enforcement work that matters most: holding the biggest polluters accountable.”
The lengthy article in The Times details numerous examples of specific incidences where the EPA has failed to go after documented infractions and cites over a dozen former and current agency officials who say that “the slowdown in enforcement is real on the ground, and that it is being directed from the top.”
“We are the boots on the ground and we just are having a hard time now getting the information we need to do our job,” said Felicia Chase, who has worked for nearly a decade as a water pollution enforcement officer in the Chicago office, which covers states from Minnesota to Ohio.
With many of the more dedicated employees of the agency feeling that the mission of the EPA is under threat, some are considering the highly unorthodox approach of directly petitioning Congress members to protect the funding for their duties. Others at the agency feel paralyzed, exercising an overabundance of caution in their work out of fear of alienating their new superiors’ policies of corporate appeasement over public safety.
Unfortunately, until a new administration takes control, the EPA can be expected to be derelict in its enforcement of the protection that is part of its very name.