“Laws are only as good as their enforcement. During his four years in office, former President Donald Trump’s appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, decimated the agency’s ability to catch and penalize polluters breaking environmental rules. As a result of this and longer-term trends, facility inspections and civil cases filed against polluting operations like chemical plants and wastewater treatment centers dropped to their lowest levels in a decade last year.
“It won’t be easy,” said Tim Whitehouse, who was a senior EPA attorney under former President Bill Clinton and is now executive director of the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. In the wake of the Trump administration, according to Whitehouse, the EPA has “become more and more timid” about pursuing inspections without the permission of state governments. In 2019, the Trump administration adopted a “no surprises” policy that meant EPA inspectors would no longer show up at facilities without first notifying state environmental agencies. Environmental advocates feared that the policy would result in facilities getting unprecedented advance notice of inspections, particularly in states where industrial polluters and regulating agencies have close relationships. Whitehouse told Grist that such practices severely limit the EPA’s ability to collect the evidence necessary to build cases against polluting companies.”