Today, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report finding that in the first six months of the Trump administration, the federal government has collected 60% less in civil penalties in environmental enforcement actions than it did, on average, during the equivalent periods of the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama presidencies. Between inauguration day and July 31st, only $12 million has been paid by defendants in actions brought by EPA and the Department of Justice, spread over 26 cases. The previous three administrations averaged $30 million during their first six months.
Below the headline figures are perhaps more interesting numbers on the amount of money violators are being required to invest to fund injunctive relief, such as pollution control equipment, and other measures to comply with environmental standards. EPA has only been estimating costs in this category for about 20 years, so there is no reliable data from the first year of the Clinton administration. In the first six months of President Obama’s first term, however, 22 reported cases required more than $1.2 billion be spent on injunctive relief. Under President Trump, the amount has been only $197 million.
Although the sample size is limited, and most if not all of the cases involved were brought by the previous administration, these numbers provide a good deal of insight into how the Trump administration is approaching environmental enforcement. The penalties agreed to by the Trump administration are down not just in the aggregate, but per enforcement action. The Obama administration recovered three times as much money as the Trump administration in penalties with only eight more cases. It would therefore not be surprising if the pace of settlements increases in coming months and years. The regulated community may come to see this moment as a good time to get out from under enforcement litigation on favorable financial terms, while viewing unnecessary delay as a risk.