The Environmental Protection Agency is dishing out far fewer civil penalties to polluters under President Donald Trump, according to a recent analysis EPA data, with penalties reaching the lowest average since 1994 during the last fiscal year.
In the two decades before President Trump took office, EPA civil fines averaged more than $500 million a year, when adjusted for inflation. Last year’s $72 million in fines was 85 percent below that amount, according to the agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online database.
Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA’s enforcement office in the Obama administration and conducted the analysis, said the inflation-adjusted figures represent the lowest since the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was established.
Former agency officials told the Post that such a decrease in the number of civil penalties could undermine the EPA’s ability to deter polluters, as it becomes less expensive to comply with the law absent penalties.
Trump administration officials have said they are working on the front end to prevent such pollution, rather than focusing on punishment after the wrongdoing takes place.
Giles, now a guest fellow at the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Program, questioned whether the new approach can achieve what administration officials promise.
“The public expects EPA to protect them from the worst polluters,” she said. “The Trump EPA is not doing that. What worries me is how industry will respond to EPA’s abandonment of tough enforcement.”
[T]he analysis conducted by Giles, and reviewed by the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that in addition to the drop in civil penalties for polluting, the amount of money companies must pay to come into compliance with federal environmental laws also declined last fiscal year, to nearly $5.6 billion. That represents the lowest amount of injunctive relief since 2003, in inflation-adjusted dollars, and is below the roughly $7.8 billion average for the two decades before Trump took office.