Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has begun to hire more people to investigate environmental crimes it is not moving fast enough, some advocates feel it is.
The Hill received a Freedom of Information Act request from Public Employees for Environment Responsibility (PEER) in December. It shows that the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement Forensics & Training has 161 environmental cops.
This is a big increase over the recent years, when their numbers were as low as 140 in 2018, according a Requests for prior PEER recordsHowever, this is still well below the 200-person minimum required by Congress.
The new figure is roughly in line with Obama’s numbers. Prior requests to the group show that it had 175 agents back in 2012, and just 154 in 2015.
Jeff Ruch is the director of PEERs Pacific, but he said that the number is particularly alarming given the low number criminal case referrals to Justice Department in fiscal 2021.
Ruch stated that Bidens EPA will not reinvigorate the criminal enforcement system, and there is no sign that they are doing so.
Their environmental justice rests on prosecution, and they must hire more investigators to investigate the case.
Enesta Jones, spokesperson for the EPA, confirmed via email that 160 special agents are employed by the agency. She also stated that it is currently hiring but it takes time.
Although hiring is a priority and an ongoing process, the process requires additional security clearances for criminal enforcement special agents. Jones stated that criminal investigator agents must retire at age 57 to avoid the program from hiring for many years.
Data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows that the EPA referred its lowest number in decades of criminal cases to Justice Department in fiscal 2021.
These 152 cases were either referred in the last few weeks of the Trump administration or in the first several months under the Biden administration. This is because the fiscal year for the federal government begins in October.
However, building a criminal case can be time-consuming and Jones stated that the pandemic created an additional backlog.
The pandemic, along with limitations on other internal EPAs, state, local and federal partners, had an impact on the number of incoming claims, data and real-time information. We expect that the number of cases will rise as judicial systems nationwide work through backlogs related to closures.
Biden’s administration stated that it intends to put a lot of emphasis on environmental justice, or addressing the environmental harm causeddisproportionately by minorities and other disadvantaged groups.
Ruch stated that strong criminal enforcement is key to this goal.
He said that pollution can be accepted as a cost of doing business without criminal prosecution. Corporate executives will be held liable for their actions if they are convicted.
Jones, meanwhile, defended Jones’s recent record in environmental justice. Jones stated that over the last year, the agency had strengthened enforcement of violations of the environment with disproportionate effect on communities with concerns about environmental justice.
She specifically referred to enforcement actions in placeslike St. Croix, where she pointed out enforcement actions in placessuch asSt. An oil refinery in controversy was ordered to suspend its operations, and highlighted actions such as a partnershipwith the Justice Department to support victim.