In grade school, students commonly ran through the halls when teachers or other school staff weren't looking.
Signs forbidding the act of sprinting past lockers did little to deter the practice, since there was no incentive not to run unless someone present was enforcing the rule.
The same can be said for industrial polluters and environmental-law enforcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump.
As the Trump administration abolishes dozens of environmental regulations, it's also dialing back enforcement on the regulations that remain in place, effectively giving polluters a hall pass.
According to an investigative report by The New York Times, the EPA has brought far fewer civil cases against polluters—a key enforcement tactic used by the regulator—during Trump's first nine months in office than it did during the same period in the two preceding administrations.
"During the first nine months under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. started about 1,900 cases, about one-third fewer than the number under President Barack Obama’s first E.P.A. director and about one-quarter fewer than under President George W. Bush’s over the same time period," says the Times piece.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt [photo from 2014]
Another powerful enforcement tool is the EPA's ability to force violators to cut pollution through facility retrofits.
Those demands, known as injunctive relief, have dropped sharply during Trump's first nine months.
The EPA's demands are "about 12 percent of what was sought under Mr. Obama, and 48 percent under Mr. Bush" during the same nine month period, the report says.
The change in operation at the EPA is having real-world consequences in short order.
The Times investigation identified more than a dozen operations "that received notices of violation toward the end of the Obama administration, but as of late November had not faced E.P.A. penalties."
However, it turns out that Trump's claim that hundreds of "burdensome" regulations have been ended during his tenure is far from accurate, as Bloomberg recently documented.
The administration took credit for killing numerous regulations that in fact had been ended under the Obama Administration.