Federal Criminal Environmental Prosecutions Continue to Fall

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first three months of FY 2018 the government reported 55 new criminal environment prosecutions. If environmental prosecutions continue at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 220 for this fiscal year. According to the case- by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, this estimate would be the lowest ever recorded since the Justice Department started tracking its environmental prosecutions over two decades ago.

Table 1. Criminal Environmental Prosecutions
Number First Quarter FY 2018 55
Number FY 2016 393
Number FY 2017 338
Projected Number FY 2018 220

The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with environment-related offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. In comparison, in the last year of the Obama administration there were 393 environmental prosecutions filed. During FY 2017, this number had dropped to 338. Thus, if trends continue for the remainder of this year, FY 2018's total will be a sizable drop from last year. See Table 1.

The long term trend in environment prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1998 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of environmental prosecutions recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown.

Figure 1. Criminal Environmental Prosecutions Over the Last 20 Years
(Click for larger image)

Six out of ten of these environmental prosecutions so far this year involved violations of wildlife protection laws, in contrast to other types of environmental crimes.

The Environmental Protection Agency was the lead investigative agency on only 16 out of these 55 prosecutions during the first three months of FY 2018. In contrast the Interior Department played the lead investigative role on 23, followed by the Department of Agriculture on 11. The Commerce Department had the lead investigative role on two, while the Department of Homeland Security was the lead agency on one. (The lead agency on the remaining two were not recorded.)

Nearly half of environmental prosecutions occurred in just three federal judicial districts. The Western District of Louisiana (Shreveport) led with 10, followed by the Central District of California (Los Angeles) and Montana that each had 8 prosecutions so far this year.

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.