Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

After receiving over $900,000 in donations from the oil and gas industries during the 2016 campaign, Trump has handed polluters smaller fines than his predecessors. (Photo: ribarnica/Flickr/cc)

60 Percent Drop in Fines Shows Corporate Polluters Have Little to Fear From Trump

"President Trump campaigned on a promise of 'law and order,' but apparently law enforcement for big polluters is not what he had in mind."

Julia Conley

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.

"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.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Utterly Shameless': Former Democratic Senators Join Fossil Fuel Lobby Group

"This is climate denial and shameful bullshit," scoffed one scientist. "Also the future for Manchin and Sinema."

Brett Wilkins ·


'When You Don't Change People's Lives, People Get Upset,' Says AOC

To reverse slump in Democratic approval ratings, the congresswoman said Biden should start by cancelling student loan debt.

Julia Conley ·


Sioux Tribe Withdraws as Cooperating Agency Over Dakota Access Pipeline Threat

"The prospect of an oil spill during such low water is truly scary," says the tribe's Water Resources Department administrator.

Jessica Corbett ·


New Report Shows How US Transportation System 'Fuels Inequality'

Favoring cars over public transit has "consequences for racial and economic justice, the environment, and more," the Institute for Policy Studies warns.

Brett Wilkins ·


Gas Stoves Even Worse for Climate, Health Than Previously Thought

New study shows methane leaks from U.S. gas-burning stoves have a climate impact comparable to emissions from about 500,000 cars.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo