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Another Thing to Doubt September 30, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Environment, Government.
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There are questions about whether the EPA is doing its job and if it is even capable of doing so since the agency currently has fewer investigators than the number called for by law. And that number is only 200 investigators for the entire country. The questions come about because of a drastic drop in prosecutions. According to the Washington Post article prosecutions, convictions and new investigations are all down by a third. From to the article:

The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics.

“You don’t get cleanup, and you don’t get deterrence,” said Eric Schaeffer, who resigned as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement in 2002 to protest the administration’s approach to enforcement and now heads the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group. “I don’t think this is a problem with agents in the field. They’re capable of doing the work. They lack the political support they used to be able to count on, especially in the White House.”

Of course the management of the EPA says that everything’s OK. Nothing’s wrong. Move along. But…

The slower pace of enforcement mirrors a decline in resources for pursuing environmental wrongdoing. The EPA now employs 172 investigators in its Criminal Investigation Division, below the minimum of 200 agents required by the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush.

The actual number of investigators available at any time is even smaller, agents said, because they sometimes are diverted to other duties, such as service on EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson‘s eight-person security detail.

Johnson, President Bush‘s chief environmental regulator, foreshadowed a less confrontational approach toward enforcement when he served as the EPA’s top deputy in late 2004. “The days of the guns and badges are over,” Johnson told a group of farm producers in Georgia the day before Bush won reelection, according to a news account of the speech.

The counter-argument cites some statistics to prove that current policies are really very effective. But given what this Administration has done in terms of the environment and scientific research in other areas I’d really like to see a serious outside investigation before deciding whether things aren’t as bad as the Post article makes them look or if in fact it might be worse.

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