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EPA enforcement declines under Biden

As director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group based in Boston, Eric Schaeffer has been keeping tabs on the EPA. During the first two years of the Biden Administration he says the agency did even less than it had under President Trump, continuing a decline that began in 2012 when Republicans took control of Congress.

Ari Phillips
Environmental Integrity Project
A watchdog group called the Environmental Integrity Project says EPA enforcement has dropped steadily for a decade.

“Almost a third of the enforcement workforce that we had in 2012 is gone," he says. "Some targeted cuts by Republicans in Congress, further decline under Trump, and then I think the first couple of years after the Democrats took control of Congress after the 2018 elections, they weren’t paying attention, and we saw continued decline. Inspections dropped about 40%. Criminal investigations are about a third. The number of successful enforcement actions that make polluters clean up and pay penalties was down 44% over the last decade, and the big cases dropped by more than half.”

Here in Virginia that has meant more pollution of water and air. “We’ve got targets that the chicken operations are supposed to meet like in Accomack County. We have some violations of Clean Air Act requirements scattered throughout the state. We have wastewater treatment plants that aren’t meeting their limits,” Schaeffer explains.

And that’s made it impossible to reach clean-up goals for the Chesapeake Bay. Schaeffer blames partisan politics.

“In the past enforcement has been a bi-partisan issue, and I worked for Republicans at the EPA in the 90’s, and they were great. They believed that if you put these laws on the books they need to be enforced.”

This year, he adds, the federal budget does contain more money for the Environmental Protection Agency – something that hasn’t happened in a decade.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief