Environmental Enforcement Declines

Federal prosecutors have filed environmental charges against substantially fewer defendants during the administration of President Bush than they did during either of President Clinton's two terms, according to a unique new data base developed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The analysis, based on case-by-case Justice Department information, covers more than 20,000 defendants who were charged with any kind of environmental crime during the twelve years from FY 1993 to FY 2004. (Because FY 2004 has not ended, the counts in the fourth year of the Bush Administration are projected for part of 2004. See About the Data for details.)

The contrast between the Clinton and Bush years is dramatic.

  • From the first Clinton term (1993-1996) to the second (1997-2000), the number of all kinds of environmental prosecutions jumped by more than a quarter, 28%.

  • But a comparison of the second Clinton term (1997-2000) with the Bush years (2002-2004) shows the opposite, a drop of 23%. (See table and graph.)

This totally new analysis is one in a series of special TRAC bulletins describing various aspects of how the federal government has enforced the environmental laws from FY 1993 on. With it, complete counts are available regarding all individuals who have been targeted for violating any one of more than 1,400 statutes, not just those cases where the prosecutors designated an environmental violation as the "lead charge."

The findings appear to contrast with the claims of leading Bush Administration figures. On June 14, for example, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt took part in an interactive forum called "Ask the White House." In response to one question, Mr. Leavitt said the administration's primary objective was to persuade all Americans to comply with the rules established by Congress. "However," he continued, "if people evade the law, we will bring the full force and strength of the agency to bear in assurance that federal standards are met. We have a strong and active criminal enforcement program that works to complement our civil enforcement."

Clinton Bush
10,366 12,096 7,197
[8,738 proj]
Change   +17% -28%
6,735 8,639 5,454
[6,652 proj]
Change   +28% -23%
4,466 5,864 4,023
[4,826 proj]
Change   +31% -18%
315 339 205
[243 proj]
Change   +8% -28%

All together, for the total 12 year period, a total of 15,156 defendants were found guilty of these crimes. But, examined by the administration within which they occurred, while the number increased 31% from the first to second Clinton terms, it dropped by 18% in the Bush years.

For those sent to prison, the counts during the Clinton years went from 315 to 339, up 8 percent. But during the Bush Administration defendants sent to prison slipped to 243, a 28% decline. (See table.)