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Civil Penalties for Breaking Environmental Laws Fell 60 Percent Under Trump

A new report compares the Environmental Protection Agency's productivity during the presidencies of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

While campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump promised to shutter the Environmental Protection Agency. He hasn't quite done that, but it appears the EPA has weakened under his administration in at least one major type of prosecution. From January 21st through July 31st, the EPA has pursued fewer cases and collected 60 percent less in civil penalties than it did, on average, in the same time span during the administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental-protection advocacy group.

Under America's last three presidents, the EPA collected an average of $30 million, not adjusted for inflation, from companies for violating laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. (The tally does not include the "Superfund" Act, which the Environmental Integrity Project said it "may" analyze separately.) This year, the EPA has collected $12 million. Previously, it referred an average of 37 civil cases to the Department of Justice at the beginning of Obama's, Bush's, and Clinton's terms. Under Trump, it lodged 26 cases.

Civil cases lodged by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Civil cases lodged by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"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. Schaeffer founded the Environmental Integrity Project in 2002 after resigning from his position as the head of the EPA's office of regulatory enforcement because he believed the Bush administration wasn't pursuing environmental cases aggressively enough.

Schaeffer's findings put numbers to the damage caused by a dysfunctional work culture at the EPA, which Pacific Standard reported on in June. There seemed to be intense distrust between longtime EPA employees and the new, Trump-appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, according to interviews conducted by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, an activist group of university professors. Micromanagement from the Washington, D.C., headquarters had slowed productivity, interviewees told the EDGI. "We've hit a period of near paralysis," one interviewee said. Now we have a measure for what that means.