No polluters pay principle under Bush’s EPA

Big polluters are getting away with committing environmental crimes with no opposition from the Government, a report has shown this week.

Research from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) revealed that the Bush Administration’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) had engineered a 75% reduction in the number of civil lawsuits filed against polluters.

Most of these cases pertained to companies refusing to voluntarily settle Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act violations, or failing to clean up pollution incidents that had been caused by their breach of environmental regulations.

Compiled by Eric Schaeffer, director of the EIP and former head of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement, the report compares the first three years of Bush’s EPA to the last three years of Clinton’s EPA. It comes hot on the heels of an EPA Inspector General stating earlier this month that political inference at the EPA “had seriously hampered settlement activities, existing enforcement cases and the development of future cases”.

The EIP report concludes: “In the last three years of the prior Administration, the Justice Department filed 152 lawsuits in federal court against companies for violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and federal hazardous waste laws. Only 36 such enforcement actions have been documented in the first three years of the Bush Administration.”

Mr Schaeffer said that one of the US’s greatest environmental presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, who once stated that no man was above the law, must be turning in his grave.

“The EPA has become shy about taking polluters to court lately,” Mr Schaeffer said. “Publicly available data shows that civil lawsuits for violation of anti-pollution laws have declined, thanks to White House decision to rewrite environmental rules and put the brakes on enforcement actions. It seems the full weight of the law has got a lot lighter over the past three years.”

A resident of Pennsylvania living near a power plant recently lost her husband to cancer, which experts put down to environmental factors, and has see numerous neighbours and friends contract asthma, heart disease and cancer.

She told the report how Hatfield’s Ferry power plant was under investigation for violating the Clean Air Act but that, along with other power plant enforcement cases, the investigation had been stopped.

“I though the EPA was supposed to protect us from pollution,” she said, “not shield polluters from the law.”

By Jane Kettle

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie