Analysis of Federal Data Reveals Communities at Risk Because of Declines in EPA Enforcement Staff, Inspections, Penalties, and Polluters Charged with Crimes
Washington, D.C. – As the new majority in the U.S. House prepares to hold its first oversight hearing Tuesday on environmental enforcement under the Trump Administration, a new report documents declines in inspections, polluters charged with crimes, civil penalties, pollution reductions, and EPA enforcement staffing.
The result, according to the report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), is that communities across the country are being put at risk of exposure to dangerous contaminants. The report provides 10 examples of major pollution violations in California, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Delaware that have avoided EPA penalties under the Trump Administration.
EPA completed 10,612 inspections and evaluations of polluters across the country last year, which was the lowest number in almost two decades and only about 60 percent of the average annually since 2001, according to federal data analyzed by EIP.
EPA sent 123 civil pollution violation cases to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution in fiscal year 2018. That was up slightly from 2017 but down 42 percent from the 211 average annually during the Obama Administration and less than half of the 304 average during the George W. Bush Administration, according to EIP’s report.
“EPA’s enforcement workforce has been shrinking for years, but the Trump Administration wants to cut it back even further,” said Eric Schaeffer, former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA and now Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “Those cutbacks are leaving communities – including those with high poverty levels and African-American or Latino neighborhoods – exposed to public health risks, while letting polluters off the hook for serious violations of the law.”
Schaeffer will be testifying at 10:30 am Tuesday before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in a hearing titled: “EPA’s Enforcement Program: Taking the Environmental Cop off the Beat.” He will be joined by Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, Bruce Buckheit, former Director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, and other experts.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s report, “Less Enforcement: Communities at Risk,” analyzed two decades of EPA data and federal court records, including new numbers released by the agency on February 8 for the 2018 federal fiscal year. Among the conclusions of EIP’s report:
- EPA charged 105 polluters with environmental crimes in fiscal 2018, the fewest in at least 18 years.
- EPA estimates that violators will ultimately spend $3.95 billion to comply with enforcement actions the agency concluded in FY 2018, the lowest amount in more than a decade after adjusting for inflation.
- EPA recovered $69.5 million in total civil penalties for polluters in fiscal 2018, the lowest in both actual and inflation-adjusted dollars in a quarter century.
- Because of years of budget cuts, EPA’s enforcement workforce has declined, with 1,842 full-time equivalent staff in 2018, which is down 16 percent from 2006. The number is expected to drop further in 2019.
- The amount of air pollution that violators were required to eliminate through EPA civil enforcement actions in the two years since President Trump’s inauguration fell 64 percent compared to the first two years of the Obama Administration.
- More broadly, the amount of all kinds of pollution reduced or treated through enforcement in 2018 was 268 million pounds. That was slightly more than the year before, but less than half of the average annually between 2012 and 2016.
“The Trump Administration likes to make the argument that it’s okay to cut EPA’s staff – because the states will take up the slack and enforce environmental laws,” said Schaeffer. “But this does not reflect the reality that many states have also slashed the budgets of their environmental agencies. And state agencies often don’t have the expertise, resources, or legal authority of EPA to impose large penalties on national or multinational companies.”
EIP’s report spotlights 10 examples of major violations and pollution releases that threaten public health and are still waiting for enforcement under the Trump Administration. The list below is based on violations and unpermitted releases documented in EPA notices, inspection reports, or monitoring records dating 18 months to four years ago:
1) Louisiana: Denka Performance Elastomer plant in LaPlace, Louisiana. This chemical plant failed to meet standards designed to control hazardous pollutants, including chloroprene, a compound EPA has determined is likely to increase the risk of cancer at very low doses.
2) Texas: Magellan Midstream Partners Galena Park terminal near Houston. During Hurricane Harvey, this petroleum storage and transfer facility released more than 460,000 gallons of gasoline into the surrounding waters and emitted smog-forming volatile organic compounds into the air.
3) California: Phillips 66 Los Angeles Refinery in Los Angeles County. This petroleum refinery failed to control both air and water emissions from hazardous waste tanks.
4) California: Dow Chemical Company in Pittsburg, California. This chemical plant northeast of San Francisco stored, without a permit, millions of gallons of hazardous waste, which was eventually discharged into a local wastewater treatment plant.
5) Pennsylvania: Keystone Protein Co. in Fredericksburg. This poultry processing plant northeast of Harrisburg discharged excessive amounts of nitrogen pollution, which feeds algal blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones,” into a tributary to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
6) Delaware: The Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant in Sussex County. This slaughterhouse’s wastewater had concentrations of enterococci bacteria, oil, grease, and waste solids in violation of permit limits.
7) Indiana: Magnetics International, Inc., in Burns Harbor. This hydrochloric acid regeneration plant in Northern Indiana failed to meet emission limits or pollution control standards for hydrochloric acid and chlorine.
8) Minnesota: Gopher Resource plant in Eagan. This lead processing plant south of St. Paul failed to meet emission limits or pollution control standards for lead, which can cause brain damage; and dioxins, which can cause cancer.
9) Ohio: Globe Metallurgical plant in Waterford. This metals manufacturing plant southeast of Columbus failed to meet emission limits or pollution control standards for particulates, an air pollutant that contributes to lung and heart diseases that result in premature death.
10) Minnesota: United Taconite iron ore plant in Forbes. This iron ore processing plant in northern Minnesota failed to meet emission limits or pollution control standards for soot (particulates), which can trigger asthma and heart attacks, as well as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals.*
(*Note: The evening before EIP released its report, United Taconite’s owner, Cleveland-Cliffs, called EIP to say that the company had agreed to pay EPA $60,000 in civil penalties and complete $150,000 in environmental projects to address the violations, although the consent decree requiring this has not yet been lodged in the courts.)
Regarding the air pollution violation in Texas, Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, said: “In Harris County, Texas, which is home to over 400 petrochemical facilities, many people live just within yards of polluting facilities. For people living here, robust enforcement action is critical to protect them from harm from unauthorized releases of toxic air pollutants. Our communities are practically defenseless because the EPA will not enforce laws intended to protect us.”
Wilma Subra, Technical Advisor to Louisiana Environmental Action Network and President of Subra Company Environmental Consulting, said that she’s concerned with the violations at the Louisiana plant (Denka Performance Elastomer.) “EPA needs to follow through on its investigation of Denka and hold the plant responsible for any violations of law that contributed to the release of chloroprene and other toxins,” Subra said.
The U.S. House committee hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 26, in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office Building. To watch the hearing online, visit: https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, that protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.
Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (202) 888-2703 or firstname.lastname@example.org