Polluters Seeing Historically Low Fines Under Trump's EPA

Polluters Seeing Historically Low Fines Under Trump's EPA

The main entrance of the U.S. EPA Headquarters at the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building in Washington, D.C.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s online Enforcement and Compliance History database, civil penalties for pollution violations have fallen to their lowest average since 1994 under President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Washington Post reports that in the 20 years before Trump took office, the agency’s civil fines averaged more than $500 million annually when adjusted for inflation. The total was $72 million in 2018, marking an 85 percent reduction.

The Trump administration explains the reduction in fines as part of a new effort to work with entities before the violations occur. Meanwhile, EPA’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, says the agency initiated more criminal cases in 2018 than in the previous year, according to the Post.

The EPA’s former enforcement office leader under the Obama administration, Cynthia Giles, tells the newspaper that the lower risk of facing penalties could undermine the EPA’s ability to deter wrongdoing. The fines send the message that it’s more expensive to violate the law than to comply with regulations.

Giles is skeptical about the administration’s new approach, which EPA claims will help business thrive without harming the environment. “The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters,” she tells the Washington Post. “The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA’s abandonment of tough enforcement.”

Meanwhile, Wheeler tells the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee there’s “misleading information in the news media” regarding the issue. “We are working very hard on compliance assurance, and I think the agency has for a number of years,” he says.


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