Criminal Enforcement of Eco Crimes by EPA In a Freefall

Fewer Investigators Translates into Fewer Referrals, Prosecutions, and Defendants


Washington, DC — Belying Scott Pruitt’s claims to be a tough polluter prosecutor, criminal enforcement by his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in a freefall, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The number of criminal investigators assigned to pollution cases continues to drop and virtually every measure of criminal enforcement under Pruitt is lower than it has been since the 1990s – and sinking.

At the same time, Pruitt has tripled the number of agents assigned to his 24/7 security detail, spending record amounts on travel and overtime. He also has this outsized escort run personal errands and turn on their sirens so he can cut through city traffic.

By contrast, the number of EPA criminal investigators as of April 2018 has dropped to 140, one-fifth fewer than in 2012, shedding 7 agents just since August. The current EPA force-level is also well below the minimum of 200 agents required by the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990. As a result –

  • The number of cases EPA referred to the Justice Department for prosecution during FY 2017 is the lowest in nearly 30 years and is on pace through the first 7 months of FY 2018 to go even lower;
  • Fewer cases referred also means fewer prosecutions, convictions, and prison sentences. In FY 2017 under Pruitt, prosecutions, convictions and prison sentences are approximately one-half those totals for 2001. Again, the FY 2018 numbers are trending even lower; and
  • The number of defendants charged in EPA cases is also off sharply, with only 31 defendants charged in the first half of FY 2018, compared with 139 defendants charged in FY 2017.

“We need more agents investigating corporate pollution crimes rather than acting as personal servants for an Administrator with an apparent Napoleonic complex,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referencing Pruitt dispatching agents to fetch his dry cleaning and favorite hand lotion. “Scott Pruitt keeps talking about returning EPA to its ‘core originalism’ but nothing is more core to the EPA mission than enforcing our nation’s pollution laws.”

Pruitt policies are likely to drive enforcement metrics even lower. He has replaced EPA’s Enforcement Initiative with a Compliance Initiative designed to let offenders avoid prosecution by merely suspending their violations. He also has extended enforcement veto power to state programs, thus injecting home state politics into prosecution decisions. At the same time, he has centralized prosecution referrals, taking final decision-making out of the hands of his Criminal Investigation Division and into his and those of his political deputy, Susan Bodine.

“Pruitt has made himself ticket-fixer-in-chief, a recipe for corruption in which corporations are invited to escape prosecution by meeting with him privately,” added Ruch, pointing out strong enforcement is vital to reaching high compliance. “If corporations know that the chances of prosecution are remote, they have little incentive to spend the capital needed to comply with anti-pollution rules.”