Washington, DC..Despite a recent, highly publicized lawsuit filed against utility companies, prosecution of environmental crimes has sharply fallen during the Clinton Administration, according to a compilation of court records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Comparing statistics from a three year period in the Bush Administration (1989-91) with a similar period in the Clinton Administration (1996-98), the PEER review shows dramatic declines in criminal referrals, prosecutions and convictions:
* more than a one-quarter (27 percent) decrease in prosecutions;
* a greater than one-third (38 percent) drop in convictions; and
* a nearly 10 percent decline in the conviction rate.
Even though the Justice Department is pursuing fewer cases, it is also declining more cases (26 percent more) brought by referring agencies, such as the EPA or the Fish & Wildlife Service. While overall numbers for the second half of the Clinton Administration show some improvement, a key measure of enforcement – the number of defendants sentenced to prison – is down by one fourth in the last two years.
“The criminal environmental enforcement record of the previous incumbent was clearly better by virtually every measure of prosecutorial effort,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, a former state prosecutor. “Maybe George Bush really was the ‘Environmental President’.”
The statistics also reinforce the results of PEER employee surveys and interviews with federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers about the de-emphasis of environmental enforcement within their agencies. PEER is also defending an Assistant United States Attorney who has suffered retaliation for pursuing pollution prosecutions under the Clinton Administration.
“The Justice Department has vigorously resisted any apples-to-apples comparison of its environmental enforcement record,” concluded Ruch.” Nor has the Justice Department seriously reviewed the sworn statements of its own employees and instead is currently fighting a pitched legal battle to prevent the application of environmental witness and whistleblower protections to its own prosecutors.”
The data that served as building blocks for PEER’s analysis were obtained from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). TRAC is online at http://www.trac.syr.edu
Reporters can contact Emily Charette at PEER (202.265.7337) for agency and/or district specific data for years 1989-1991 and 1994-1998.