Federal prosecutors working under President Bush charged significantly fewer defendants with violating the nation's pollution laws than they did during either of the four-year terms of former President Clinton, according to a unique new data base developed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
Here are the numbers.
During President Clinton's first four years in the White House (FY1993-1996) a total of 1,018 defendants were charged with breaking one of the dozens of laws relating to the handling of hazardous wastes and the reduction of air, water and other forms of pollution. In the second Clinton term the number of such defendants climbed to 1,161, a 14% increase. But in the FY 2001-2004 period under President Bush pollution filings declined by about 30 percent. (Because the current fiscal year has not yet ended, the counts in the fourth year of the Bush Administration are projected for part of FY 2004. See About the Data.)
Although criminal enforcement is only one way the government works to persuade the public to comply with the nation's laws, the data seem to conflict with the repeated statements of various officials in the Bush Administration. For example, late last year, as noted earlier in the first bulletin in this series, J.P. Suarez, then the assistant administrator for EPA Enforcement and Compliance, said the data showed that the government's enforcement effort "is not only alive and well, but it is thriving." More recently, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said his agency had a "strong and active criminal enforcement program..."
This bulletin is one in a series of short focused studies that the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is presenting to the American people that examine many different aspects of how the government has dealt with various kinds of environmental violations involving the protection of wildlife, maintaining the national forests and, in this case, the government's response to pollution problems involving water, air, the stratosphere and hazardous waste.
The documentation of how the government's priorities have shifted is based on very detailed case-by-case Justice Department information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act.
While the government's overall pollution enforcement effort is definitely down, the new data base shows that for last 12 years the government's enforcement trends have somewhat varied, depending on the particular statute under examination.
The table below provides statute-by-statute data about more than three dozen different pollution laws that the government cited in the last twelve years.