During the first six months of the Trump presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency has lagged behind three previous administrations in environmental enforcement, collecting 60 percent less in civil penalties from polluters, a report released on Thursday said.
During President Donald Trump's first six months in office, the Justice Department collected $12 million in civil penalties as part of 26 civil lawsuits. That compares to $36 million in 34 cases during the Obama administration; $30 million in 31 cases under the George W. Bush administration; and $25 million in 45 cases during the Clinton administration's first six months, the report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) found.
"If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste,” said EIP Executive Director Eric Schaeffer, who served as the EPA's head of civil enforcement from 1997 to 2002.
The report analyzed consent decrees lodged by the Justice Department from Trump's first day in office, Jan. 21, through July 31, evaluating penalties paid by companies, the amount those companies will spend on pollution controls and how much pollution these enforcement actions can reduce.
Patrick Traylor, deputy assistant administrator at EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, reviewed a copy of the report and said the findings were unfair because it can take months for a consent decree to be lodged.
"This 'snapshot' ... says much more about enforcement actions commenced in the later years of the Obama administration than it does about actions taken in the beginning of the Trump administration," he said in a statement.
The report also found that value of injunctive relief, or the amount of money violators spend to install pollution controls and clean up, was also lowest in the Trump administration under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Under Trump, injunctive relief required in 10 cases totaled $197 million, compared to $710 million in 16 cases under Bush and $1.2 billion in 22 under Obama, the report said. EPA did not collect this data until the later years of the Clinton administration, so results could not be compared.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about Pruitt's close ties to the energy industry, documented in public records of his meetings.
When asked about his approach to enforcement and close industry ties in an interview with Reuters last month, Pruitt said the EPA is committed to enforcement and working with states to carry it out.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bill Trott)