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Environmental Penalties Down Under Bush, Data Show

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  • Robert V. Schmidt
    From the LA Times, 1/31/03: ***** THE NATION Environmental Penalties Down Under Bush, Data Show Administration critics see a smoking gun, but officials say
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
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      From the LA Times, 1/31/03:

      *****

      THE NATION
      Environmental Penalties Down Under Bush, Data Show

      Administration critics see a smoking gun, but officials say spending on
      forced cleanups is up.

      By Elizabeth Shogren, Times Staff Writer

      WASHINGTON -- Both civil and criminal penalties for breaking federal
      environmental laws have dropped significantly since President Bush took
      office, according to Environmental Protection Agency data released
      Thursday.

      But at the same time, the EPA forced companies to spend more to clean up
      their pollution in the last two years than in the final three years of the
      Clinton administration.

      Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who released the data without the EPA's
      consent, focused on the penalties paid by industry for breaking
      environmental laws. Civil penalties fell by nearly half to $55 million,
      according to the EPA data, and criminal penalties dropped by more than
      one-third to $62 million.

      For environmentalists and some congressional Democrats who have criticized
      the Bush administration for being soft on enforcing environmental laws, the
      data provided the smoking gun they have been looking for.

      "The numbers show an extremely disturbing trend towards weaker enforcement
      over the last two years," said Dingell, the ranking Democrat on the House
      Energy and Commerce Committee.

      The Bush administration countered that the data reflected the normal
      fluctuations that depend on what cases are settled or otherwise resolved in
      a particular year.

      John Peter Suarez, assistant EPA administrator for enforcement and
      compliance assurance, said proof of the agency's strong enforcement efforts
      during the Bush administration could be found in the record amounts of
      money it has forced industry to spend to either stop polluting or clean up
      its messes.

      The agency forced companies to spend about $8.4 million in the first two
      years of the Bush administration, against slightly less than $7 million
      over the last three years of the Clinton administration.

      "We're going after companies that need to spend significant amounts of
      money to clean up," Suarez said.

      EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has repeatedly stressed that fines and
      penalties are not the appropriate measure of an effective environmental
      policy.

      "The way to measure the success of any environmental undertaking is
      [whether] the environment is getting better -- is the air cleaner, the
      water purer, the land better protected -- not just how many fines, fees and
      penalties are getting collected," Whitman said in a recent interview.

      Environmentalists said that the more telling number was the 261 million
      pounds of pollution expected to be cleaned up as a result of enforcement in
      fiscal 2002, down from 335 million in Clinton's last year in office.

      However, in Bush's first year, the comparable figure was 660 million.

      The EPA also announced Thursday that it would ask Congress for $503 million
      for environmental enforcement for fiscal 2004, up by $21 million from the
      agency's request for fiscal 2003. Although fiscal 2003 is nearly four
      months old, Congress has yet to appropriate funding for the EPA.

      Environmentalists and EPA watchdogs say the agency has de-emphasized
      enforcement during the last two years by reducing staff by 210 positions,
      or about 7%. The number of EPA inspections also has dropped significantly
      under the Bush administration, from 21,417 in fiscal 2000 to 17,688 in
      fiscal 2002.

      "It's been both a change in resources and a change in philosophy," said
      Wesley Warren, a budget specialist at the Natural Resources Defense
      Council, a national environmental group.

      Even the administration's own budget documents from last year projected a
      significant drop in the amount of pollution that would be cut through
      enforcement actions.

      "It should be no surprise," Warren said. "In their own budget documents,
      they said they were going to do fewer inspections, file fewer lawsuits and
      allow pollution to go up."
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