Penal­ties against pol­luters drop sharply

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Anna M. Phillips Anna M. Phillips is a Los An­ge­les Times writer.

WASHINGTON — Num­bers re­leased by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion show an 80 per­cent drop in some penal­ties levied against pol­luters, the lat­est sign that the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has be­come a less ag­gres­sive watch­dog.

In­junc­tive re­lief — the amount of money pol­luters com­mit to pay to cor­rect prob­lems and pre­vent them from re­cur­ring — fell from $20.6 bil­lion in fis­cal 2017 to $3.95 bil­lion in fis­cal 2018. That is a 15-year low for the agency.

Civil penal­ties in 2018 de­clined to $69 mil­lion. That was far less than the $1.68 bil­lion in penal­ties im­posed 2017, but that year’s fig­ure in­cludes by fines ne­go­ti­ated by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Volk­swa­gen agreed in 2016 to a $1.45 bil­lion penalty as pu­n­ish­ment for its diesel emis­sions scan­dal.

In re­leas­ing the fig­ures last week, EPA of­fi­cials said they were fo­cused in 2018 on en­sur­ing that fa­cil­i­ties were in com­pli­ance, and ex­pe­dit­ing site cleanup.

The EPA’s data span fis­cal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. For the most part, the fig­ures re­flect en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity — cases set­tled, fines as­sessed — un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Civil penal­ties are at their low­est since 1994, when the en­force­ment of­fice was cre­ated, said Cyn­thia Giles, as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor for the EPA’s en­force­ment of­fice in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Not only are the Trump EPA’s en­force­ment num­bers at his­toric lows, they are on track to get worse,” Giles said.

Last month, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice re­leased num­bers show­ing that the EPA had hit a 30-year low in 2018 in the num­ber of pol­lu­tion cases it re­ferred for crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion.

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