Study: Fines for il­le­gal pol­lu­tion down by 60% un­der Trump

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Michael Biesecker

WASH­ING­TON» Fines for il­le­gal pol­lu­tion have plum­meted un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, ac­cord­ing to anal­y­sis by an en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy group.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal In­tegrity Project looked at civil penal­ties paid by polluters dur­ing the first six months un­der Trump. The group pub­lished an anal­y­sis Thurs­day that found penal­ties were less than half their lev­els un­der each of the past three pres­i­dents.

The anal­y­sis found that Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment set­tled 26 civil cases against com­pa­nies over en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions, to­tal­ing $12 mil­lion in penal­ties. That’s a 60 per­cent drop on av­er­age from com­pa­ra­ble time pe­ri­ods un­der pres­i­dents Barack Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush or Bill Clin­ton, even be­fore ad­just­ments for in­fla­tion.

Be­sides reach­ing fewer set­tle­ments, the group said, en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fend­ers also were re­quired to per­form less cleanup un­der Trump and make smaller re­duc­tions to fu­ture pol­lu­tion.

A spokesman for the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Thurs­day that it con­tin­ues to “vig­or­ously en­force” en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

The re­port’s au­thors cau­tioned that six months rep­re­sent only an eighth of a pres­i­den­tial term but said the early news is nei­ther en­cour­ag­ing nor sur­pris­ing. Trump and his En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, have com­plained that fed­eral reg­u­la­tions are of­ten too onerous and sti­fle the growth of Amer­i­can busi­nesses.

“Pres­i­dent Trump cam­paigned on a prom­ise of ‘law and or­der,’ but ap­par­ently law en­force­ment for big polluters is not what he had in mind,” Eric Scha­ef­fer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal In­tegrity Project, said in a state­ment. He pre­vi­ously served as di­rec­tor of EPA’s civil en­force­ment of­fice un­der both Clin­ton and Bush.

Un­der the first six months un­der Obama, the Jus­tice Depart­ment brought 34 civil cases for vi­o­la­tions of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Wa­ter Act and other fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, with polluters agree­ing to pay $36 mil­lion in penal­ties. Bush logged 31 cases with $30 mil­lion in penal­ties, while Clin­ton ac­counted for 45 cases with $25 mil­lion in penal­ties.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment did not dis­pute the study’s numbers, but a spokesman said fig­ures for civil penal­ties do not tell the full story be­cause they do not in­clude fines from crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions.

“The depart­ment con­tin­ues to vig­or­ously en­force en­vi­ron­men­tal laws to bet­ter pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Mark Abueg, a pub­lic af­fairs spe­cial­ist at Jus­tice. “For ex­am­ple, in just the last six months, (we) filed ma­jor new Clean Air Act lit­i­ga­tion and ob­tained a $40 mil­lion crim­i­nal penalty in a ves­sel pol­lu­tion case that safe­guards the en­vi­ron­ment.”

The $40 mil­lion fine Abueg cited was fi­nal­ized in April as part of the sen­tenc­ing of Princess Cruise Lines over the il­le­gal dump­ing and con­ceal­ment of oil-con­tam­i­nated waste from its ships. How­ever, the set­tle­ment, the largest ever in such a case, was ac­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ated un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and an­nounced in De­cem­ber — the month be­fore Trump took of­fice — as part of the com­pany’s guilty plea to felony crimes in fed­eral court.

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