If the EPA wants to reduce federal involvement in environmental protection, it may not need to roll back emissions requirements or cancel California's environmental waiver. It could just quit enforcing the law.
That is already happening to a degree, according to new data from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, as reported in The Washington Post.
The data reveals that enforcement staff has fallen by 10 percent in the agency's Criminal Investigation Division since September 2016, a few months before President Donald Trump's election.
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The division is responsible for investigating violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other statutes.
In late 2016, the Criminal Investigation Division had 157 employees. That number fell to 140 by April 2018. The division refers criminal violators to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Those referrals are also down from 228 in fiscal-year 2016 under the Obama Administration to a 30-year low of 208 in fiscal 2017 under Trump. Such prosecutions had been dropping even under previous administrations. In 2011, EPA criminal prosecutions reached a recent peak of 413.
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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took over the agency with fewer criminal investigators than the law requires and has allowed staffing levels to drop from there. Under the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act, the EPA is required to employ 200 special investigators in the criminal division, a number it hasn't reached since 2003.
Even some of the agency's existing investigators from the Boston, Denver, and other offices have been reassigned to Priutt's personal security detail on a rotating basis.
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Civil investigations have to be approved by the assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Susan Bodine, under a new policy.
Regardless of what happens with the EPA's proposals to roll back regulations, the report implied that the agency may be spread too thin to enforce the laws it already has.