EPA should be making more criminal referrals for polluters


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The Lexington Herald-Leader reported on Jan. 15 that the Environmental Protection Agency is referring polluters for prosecution at its lowest in 30 years. Though the reason given for this was that they are focusing on the most serious cases, it is a bad move to ignore the accumulation of pollution incidents that, on their own, may seem small.

The financial and political motivations behind deregulating punishment for polluters is short sighted at best.

The story reported that EPA referrals resulted in 62 federal convictions in the year 2018, making it the fewest convictions since 1995. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1998, 592 people were referred for criminal prosecution. 

The story quoted Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group: “You don’t get closer to the core of EPA’s mission than enforcing the law. We’re reaching levels where the enforcement program is lacking a pulse.”

Part of the problem is the lack of agents in the field to watch over these issues. According to the Herald-Leader, in 1990, Congress ruled that the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division must have 200 agents in the field and that now, there are only 140. This leads to gross oversight, even when issues are reported by well-meaning citizens. Budgeting for more agents is an investment that would be well worth it in the long run.  

With the U.S. having such astronomical numbers of incarcerated citizens, we need to reevaluate crimes worth being locked up for. I think we can all agree, however, that the stability and future of our planet is serious enough that the EPA should crack down on their criminal referrals. 

Unfortunately, many have proven over time that they will not respect the planet and the environment on their own. Thus, we need incentive. Though the Herald-Leader’s story said that the organization is focusing on bigger violations, this is one area that the EPA would do well to nitpick over. As with anything else, the accumulation of small violations is likely to be more overwhelming than they seem.

Perhaps after the referrals pick up, we as a nation can finally realize how serious pollution is and that there are not only long-term ramifications to our actions, but immediate ones as well.