Trump’s EPA Is Taking Credit for Obama’s Environmental Enforcement

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The Environmental Protection Agency was eager to announce Thursday it racked up more than $5 billion in enforcement dollars in the fiscal year 2017. This money includes private parties that have agreed to clean up contaminated sites, fines criminals need to pay, and legal penalties. Here’s the catch: The agency under Administrator Scott Pruitt had little to do with most of this money.

The fiscal year includes anything between October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017. If you can recall, former president Obama was still in office at the beginning of that year. One of the so-called “notable cases” the agency highlighted includes the Volkswagen emissions scandal, whose $4.25 billion in penalties amounted to nearly all the penalty dollars for the fiscal year. That case was wrapped up under Obama. (Sorry, Pruitt.)


The agency is pretty hyped that its administrative and civil judicial penalties were the highest they’ve been in the last 10 years (except 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon Spill occurred).

“A strong enforcement program is essential to achieving positive health and environmental outcomes,” wrote Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine, in the statement.

This “strong enforcement program” didn’t happen under Pruitt, though. Pruitt can take credit for just 5 percent—at most—for the most important enforcement actions, wrote Cynthia Giles, who served as a top EPA official under Obama and now teaches at The University of Chicago, in an email statement. “EPA’s record enforcement year in 2017 is entirely the result of cases that were over before Administrator Pruitt and his team arrived,” she wrote.

It’s odd to imagine Pruitt being tough on polluters: Since he’s taken office, he’s been pretty cozy to industry. Removing regulations on factories and ignoring child lead poisoning don’t really look like enforcement to me.


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About the author

Yessenia Funes

Senior staff writer, Earther. The one who "pulls the race card" in the name of environmental justice. You dig?

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