Thanks to a hiring freeze, budget cuts, and the exorbitant travel needs of Trump's cabinet, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agents are being forced to ditch climate crime investigations in order to serve as personal bodyguards for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, resulting in what one critic called an "evaporation of criminal enforcement."
"Fewer agents generate fewer cases leading to ever-fewer convictions down the road." —Jeff Ruch, PEER"The EPA head has traditionally had one of the smallest security details among cabinet members," the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. But Pruitt's expansive security team—which cost taxpayers over $830,000 in his first three months as EPA chief—has shattered all precedent.
"This never happened with prior administrators," Michael Hubbard, former head of the EPA Criminal Investigation Division's Boston office.
Pruitt's 24/7, 18-member security detail "demands triple the manpower of his predecessors" and is forcing "officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes," the Post's Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis noted.
These officials "signed on to work on complex environmental cases, not to be an executive protection detail," Hubbard observed. "It's not only not what they want to do, it's not what they were trained and paid to do."
The impact of this transfer of resources can already be seen in the rapidly falling number of new cases opened by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. Eilperin and Dennis note that the "current fiscal year is on pace to open just 120 new cases...down sharply from the 170 initiated last year."
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), argued that this decline in criminal cases is directly linked to the EPA's inadequate staffing, and that it will only continue to get worse as more cuts are imposed by the Trump administration, which has proposed slashing the agency's budget by 30 percent.
"Increasingly, principled professionals, who have proudly served administrations from both parties, are under orders to betray, rather than serve, the public interest."
—Kyla Bennett, PEER
"[F]ewer agents generate fewer cases leading to ever-fewer convictions down the road," Ruch concluded.
During his short tenure as head of the EPA, Pruitt has worked furiously on behalf of Big Oil to dismantle regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions and protecting the nation's water and air—work that has earned him the nicknames "Pruitt the Polluter" and "fossil fuel puppet."
As Common Dreams has reported, much of Pruitt's deregulatory agenda has been drawn straight from the playbook of America's major oil and gas companies.
"In Pruitt's EPA it is hard to identify even a single action to better protect the environment," concluded Kyla Bennett, New England director of PEER. "Increasingly, principled professionals, who have proudly served administrations from both parties, are under orders to betray, rather than serve, the public interest."