Anti-pollution suits fall by 70%

Report says penalties decrease under Bush

May 24, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

Lawsuits against polluters have fallen by more than half under the Bush administration, and penalties and investigations of environmental crimes are also down, according to a new report by an environmental advocacy group.

The Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project said that "the Justice Department has become reluctant to sue violators," filing fewer than 16 lawsuits a year against polluters who refused to settle since Bush took office. This compares with an average of 52 a year in the last three years of the Clinton administration.

The group's examination of 10 years of federal data also shows that civil penalties for polluters have fallen by 24 percent, to $81 million a year between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with $107 million a year from 1996 to 2000.

"The fact that penalties have declined on both the civil and criminal side is disturbing," said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the group and a former top official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "A good environmental program needs to make polluters pay for their violations."

Matthew J. McKeown, acting assistant general for the U.S. Justice Department's environmental division, said his agency is more aggressive than ever in forcing the cleanup of air, water and land. "Any suggestion that the Justice Department is not enforcing the nation's laws is utterly false," he said.

The Environmental Integrity Project report also concludes that criminal fines for polluters have dropped 38 percent under the Bush administration, to $64 million a year between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with $104 million a year between 1996 and 200. And the number of new criminal investigations for polluters has fallen by 23 percent, to 411 a year since 2002, compared with 536 a year between 1996 and 2000.

On the positive side, settlements requiring industries to add pollution-control equipment have totaled $26 billion under the Bush administration, which is more than during the Clinton years. But many of the Bush-era settlements arose from lawsuits filed during the Clinton years, Schaeffer said.

Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for the EPA's enforcement office, said her division is "continuing to vigorously enforce our nation's environmental laws" and prevented 890 million pounds of pollution from entering the environment last year.

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