I was reading this morning another article about the “new” USEPA Enforcement Initiatives. Notwithstanding the USEPA’s enforcement statistics, criminal enforcement is down. Fewer cases are being made and the cases that are being made are the so-called “bottom-feeder” cases. In short, the only cases being made are Grenada cases (the term comes from a line in The Wolf of Wall Street where the case against Jordan Belfort is called unloseable).
Why is that, that criminal enforcement is down? While I am not necessarily complaining (and my clients sure are not complaining), the downturn, I believe, comes down to a few management style factors. I am basing these beliefs on discussions I have had with various people, across the spectrum of the enforcement landscape. First, at the very top of the USEPA, there is a distinct lack of “enthusiasm” for criminal enforcement. That comes from the very top of the USEPA as well as the very top of the USEPA CID. The thought process, I believe, is that the USEPA’s regulations are “working” such that criminal enforcement is not necessary. That thought process, coupled with a “business friendly” atmosphere in the current administration, puts the criminal enforcement program out the back door, like an unwanted guest.
Second, there is a lack of commitment to financial resources. You may recall the Congressional mandate of several years ago to maintain 200 criminal investigators? The number of USEPA criminal investigators is down to about 130 nation-wide. While there are plans to add, through the hiring process, another 30 or so agents, that is still far behind the Congressional mandate.
Finally, the attitude at the top has filtered down to the case agents themselves. There has been an almost one hundred (100) percent change in the special-agents-in-charge (the criminal investigators boss at the Regional level). There were some very good ones that were “forced” out. You would absolutely laugh at some of the reasons used to remove them; however, that is the nature of the civil servant process. The case agents themselves may have been motivated at one time; however, in my experience, the lazy ones (and some stupid ones as well) far out-number the truly talented environmental criminal agents (and there are some really excellent criminal agents).
Until the USEPA cleans up its culture as a law enforcement agency (do not kid yourself, it is a law enforcement agency), criminal enforcement will continue to be nothing more than the proverbial “red-haired step child” in the USEPA enforcement family. And we will have more Flint, Michigan crisis to show for it.
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