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Pollution enforcement drops under Bush

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Pollution enforcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined in the first five fiscal years of the Bush administration as compared to Clinton’s final five, a new study says.

EPA enforcement efforts have dropped on four of five key fronts, says the report released by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit lobbying group.

In a review of data from 1996 to 2006 focusing on the first five fiscal years under President Bush’s administration and the final five fiscal years under former President Bill Clinton, the study found decreases in the number of court filings, criminal investigations, and civil and criminal penalties initiated by the EPA.

But the report also notes that Bush administration EPA officials have achieved significant success in obtaining high-value settlements under difficult circumstances.

“The bad news here is that it now costs less to pollute” Eric Schaeffer, director of the environmental group, says in a written statement. “There is one bright spot at the EPA: recent settlements that require polluters to spend billions of dollars to control emissions at power plants and refineries, or modernize sewage treatment systems.”

According to the report, the number of suspected violations filed by the EPA has declined to fewer than 16 a year since January 2001, a significant drop from the average of 52 cases filed annually during the Clinton administration’s last three years.

Criminal investigations of suspected polluters also are down, with the EPA initiating 23 percent fewer each year under Bush’s watch than during the final Clinton years.

Retribution for organizations found in violation of pollution laws have dropped as well, the report indicates.

Civil penalties are down 24 percent and criminal fines 38 percent, though jail time has declined only 5 percent.

“EPA’s enforcement program deserves credit for obtaining settlements that require such significant expenditures in pollution control,” Schaeffer says. “Unfortunately, this notable achievement is threatened by EPA administrators’ continued efforts to weaken the environmental laws its own staff keep trying to enforce.”

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