An environmental watchdog group said Thursday that the Trump administration has so far shown little interest in holding companies accountable for polluting the environment, compared with President Donald Trump's recent predecessors.
In keeping with a pattern of lax enforcement Trump took office in January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department have collected just $12 million in fines from violators of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other anti-pollution laws, according to a new study released by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The previous three presidents handed out fines totaling between $25 and $36 million in their first six months in office.
The findings of the report mirror a similar decline in government fines levied against Wall Street firms, as Common Dreams reported earlier this week.
"If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste."—Eric Schaeffer, EIP
While pollution has still certainly been taking place, Trump, who received more in donations from the oil and gas industries than any other candidate during the 2016 campign, has reduced fines by about 60 percent for big polluters. The EPA's largest fine since January amounted to just $2.5 million, issued a Texas chemical storage facility for its emissions of the chemical benzene—a carcinogen that contributes to air pollution and can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and the nervous system.
Comparatively, President George W. Bush's administration fined three petroleum refinery companies a total of $15 million for similar emissions, in the first six months of Bush's first term.
The head of the EIP, Eric Schaeffer, who was formerly the Director of Civil Enforcement at the EPA, noted that the "tough talk" Trump is known for apparently doesn't extend to large corporations guilty of pollution.
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"President Trump campaigned on a promise of 'law and order,' but apparently law enforcement for big polluters is not what he had in mind," said Schaeffer. "If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste."
According to the report, Trump's lack of action against violators has had a potentially fatal impact on the ongoing fight against pollution:
The EPA estimates how many premature deaths were avoided by [an] enforcement action. Using that yardstick, in the first six months of the Bush administration, at least 549 premature deaths were avoided. Under Obama, at least 184 premature deaths were avoided. For the Trump administration, that figure is much lower. At least seven premature deaths were avoided.
While the EIP notes that trends in an administration can vary over time, "the number and the type of cases filed by an administration in its first months give an indication of how aggressive it will be in enforcing environmental laws."
"The actions that Justice Department and EPA take over the next year will indicate whether the disappointing results so far are all we can expect," said Schaeffer.