Fewer EPA Cops on the Beat
While much of the recent furore over the Bush administration's politicization of government science and the environment has been focused on the Endangered Species Act, the EPA, whose lapses we've chronicled over the past few weeks, has been steadily continuing its long decline into political impotence. A leaked internal memo from one of the agency's top lawyers, criminal office councel Michael Fisher, has revealed that the EPA is violating the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990 — which mandates the agency to employ at least 200 environmental investigators — by employing only 174 agents.
Although the agency's overall criminal enforcement budget has risen nearly 25% over the past 3 years to $48 million — the result of the Bush administration's decision to reduce the number of cases and only target big polluters (and we all know how much they like investigating their corporate allies) — the number of agents employed by the Criminal Investigation Division, which is in charge of investigating the most serious violations, has continued to drop. "If you have fewer cops on the beat, you end up with fewer cases," said Eric Schaeffer, the former chief of the agency's civil enforcement organization and the head of the Environmental Integrity Project.Its overall caseload has also been declining, and it has opted to open fewer new investigations every year since 2002. Before Schaeffer resigned from his position, the agency had 216 agents and was monitoring 484 new cases; last year, the number of new investigations stood at 305 and there were 174 agents. In contrast, the 1990s witnessed an increase in new criminal cases and consistent increases in the number of agents hired during 7 of the 10 years.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has criticized the administration for the steady erosion in the EPA's caseload and staff under its tenure, and the House Energy and Commerce committee have been scrutinizing the agency's criminal enforcement operations and management. This new focus comes in the wake of a recent drinking water contamination scandal at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in North Carolina, which went unprosecuted.
As easy as it is for us to focus on the larger, more publicized scandals roiling the EPA and other science-based governmental organizations, Congress and other watchdogs constantly need to be on the lookout these types of problems as they tend to be the ones that often go unnoticed — though their consequences may prove more damaging in the long run.
See also: ::EPA Library Materials: Not Open for Public Access, ::EPA: We Report, You Decide, ::EPA: What, Us Regulate Pollution?
Image courtesy of dantekgeek via flickr