EPA Criminal Investigations Sag Under Obama

For Immediate Release

EPA Criminal Investigations Sag Under Obama

Number of Criminal Investigators, Cases and Convictions Slump as Program Drifts

WASHINGTON - Contrary to promises to beef up
prosecution of polluters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
criminal enforcement program is withering under the Obama
administration, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The
number of EPA criminal investigators has fallen below Bush
administration levels as the management of the criminal enforcement
program continues to lack focus.

The EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) investigates the most serious environmental crimes.  Its investigators are armed, badge-carrying special agents who probe corporate pollution offenses.  From
205 special agents in 2003, there were only 173 agents in 2010,
according to EPA statistics, but this number includes vacant slots,
reducing the number of actual agents down to 160, according to a hand
count of the latest agent directory.

The U.S.
Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990 requires a minimum of 200 CID agents, a
goal the Obama administration vowed but failed to reach.  The
FY 2010 EPA budget summary states: "The program will increase the
number of agents to complete its three-year hiring strategy of raising
its special agent workforce to 200 criminal investigators."  Yet, CID is shrinking rather than growing.

The
drop-off in special agents is also reflected in a decline in new
criminal cases referred for federal prosecution, with only 339 such
referrals in 2009, a nearly 40% decline from 1999 case production,
according to Justice Department figures.  Criminal prosecutions filed from EPA cases and convictions obtained are both down more than 25% from 1999 to 2009.

"It
is simple - without pollution cops on the beat, polluters go free,"
said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state enforcement
attorney.  "Besides staffing and resources, CID needs
leadership that helps rather than hinders its special agents in making
busts that stick." 

During the
first Bush term, negative publicity about diversion of CID agents to
Homeland Security-related assignments prompted a management review which
recommended a series of reforms to restore the emphasis on
environmental crimes.  Unfortunately, the bulk of these reforms were not implemented.

CID
agents who have contacted PEER complain about myopic management which
lacks environmental enforcement experience and stresses internal
procedures at the expense of investigations.  One example
is a March 3, 2010 memo from CID Director Ella Barnes admonishing
supervisors of their "obligations to grant sick leave only when the need
for sick leave is supported by administratively acceptable evidence."  She
further advises "you should consult with our employment attorney
whenever an issue with sick leave arises" in order to achieve
"consistency of practices across the organization".

"After
reading this memo on sick leave, it is a wonder that the entire CID did
not take a mental health day," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch, whose organization is conducting a survey of all CID agents on
workplace concerns.  "These highly trained professionals need internal support to complete complex white collar investigations."

 

Look at the declining number of EPA CID special agents

See unfulfilled EPA goal on agent staffing

View overall decline in EPA criminal enforcement numbers

Read the CID sick leave memo

Review CID reforms that were never implemented

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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