World8 hours ago (Feb 25, 2022 12:16AM ET)
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A sign indicating that the beach is closed is seen as workers rake up crude oil, after more than 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) of crude oil leaked from a ruptured pipeline into the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach, California, U.S., October 7,
By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement activities have dropped sharply since 2018, as criminal fines and civil penalties paid by polluters dropped to new lows, a Washington D.C. watchdog group said Friday in a report.
EPA enforcement activity, including criminal investigations and inspections, declined by about half between the 2018 and 2021 fiscal years, compared to the average yearly totals between 2002 and 2017, according to a study by the Environmental Integrity Project.
Civil penalties in 2018-2021 were at least 28% lower than during 2002-2017, while criminal fines declined 49%, after adjusting for inflation, the nonprofit group said.
The EPA declined to comment on the report’s conclusions.
Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA director of civil enforcement, said the EPA’s capacity to enforce the country’s environmental laws has declined, partly because of budget cuts.
Since fiscal year 2010, when the EPA had an annual enacted budget of $10.3 billion and a staff of more than 17,000 people, the agency’s resources have dwindled. But under the administration of President Joe Biden, spending is up, $9.2 billion in fiscal 2021, with plans to add more than 1,000 full-time employees in the current fiscal year, for a total of about 15,300, according to EPA figures.
Meanwhile, the number of criminal cases opened (123) and polluters charged (105) in the 2021 federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 were at their second lowest levels in the past two decades, while fines and years of incarceration were at their lowest, Schaeffer said.
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