Washington, DC — Enforcement of anti-pollution laws by the federal government has declined steadily and substantially since George W. Bush became president, according to U.S. Justice Department figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Requests by federal agencies for criminal prosecution have dropped by more than half since 2000 while such referrals for civil prosecution have declined by more than a third.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for most of the anti-pollution enforcement, environmental prosecutions are also initiated from cases developed by other federal agencies, ranging from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to the Army Corps of Engineers. According to figures extracted by PEER from the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) database of records compiled by Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys:

  • Referrals for new environmental criminal prosecutions government-wide have dropped by more than half (54%) from 2000 to 2005. In the EPA, such requests for prosecution have fallen 33% during that same five-year period;
  • Referrals for new civil prosecutions of environmental offenses have declined by more than a third (34%) between 2000 and 2003 (the last year for which statistics are available). New federal civil court complaints against polluters have dropped even more, with a government-wide decline of 37% in new cases filed. EPA civil filings are down by 44% in this same period; and
  • The number of federal criminal environmental prosecutions filed in 2005 has decreased 14% since 2000 and the number of convictions obtained is down 13%. During the same period, criminal prosecutions filed on EPA cases have declined by 18% while convictions are down 6%.

Not only are the enforcement numbers under George W. Bush much lower than those during the Clinton administration, in many categories they are below those of the George H.W. Bush presidency.

“This Bush administration can make no claim to law and order credentials when it comes to pollution,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Corporate transgressors have growing reason for confidence that environmental violations will not trigger federal prosecution.”

The biggest cause for concern is the steep drop of new cases entering the prosecution pipeline. Pollution prosecutions often take years to develop. The prosecutions concluded today are, in many instances, cases developed under the Clinton administration. In the next administration, however, prosecutors will find a much smaller pool of completed investigations ready for prosecution in court.

“Like recovery from malnutrition, the damage done from clamping shut the intake valve for new environmental prosecutions will take years to turn around,” concluded Ruch.


Find out more about the TRAC databases on federal enforcement

Look at government-wide environmental enforcement numbers for
Criminal prosecutions
Civil suits

See EPA enforcement numbers for
Criminal prosecutions
Civil suits

Trace the decline in the EPA enforcement program

Revisit the EPA Office of Inspector General critique of the agency enforcement program

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