EPA Fines Declined More than 70 Percent in 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency fined polluters $1.6 billion in penalties for breaking emissions rules in fiscal year 2017 — one-fifth of the $5.7 billion that the Obama-era EPA fined companies and municipalities the year before, according to agency data and reporting by The Hill.

The agency gathered $20 billion from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017 (also known as fiscal year 2017) in injunction relief — the money companies pledge to remediate pollution problems — but, as The Hill points out, $15.9 billion of this came from a settlement against Volkswagen for its emissions control violations. Without that case, the Trump administration EPA collected $4 billion in injunction relief in 2017, less than a third of $13.7 billion that the Obama EPA collected in 2016.

Despite the decline in pollution fines, the agency said in a statement that it spent last year focusing on “expediting site cleanup, deterring noncompliance, and returning facilities to compliance with the law.”

“A strong enforcement program is essential to achieving positive health and environmental outcomes,” Susan Bodine, head of the EPA’s compliance office, said.  

But environmental enforcement experts told The Hill the numbers are worrying and could have lasting consequences.

“My big concern is that if there isn’t a viable threat of litigation and enforcement, if there aren’t an appropriate number of lawsuits or complaints brought, that you lose that deterrent effect,” Steven Chester, who served from 2011 to 2014 as deputy assistant administrator in EPA’s compliance office, said.