Rise in E.P.A. Penalties Against Polluters Comes With an Asterisk

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In her statement, Ms. Bodine, who became enforcement director in December, said that the agency had focused its enforcement efforts during fiscal 2017 on speeding up the cleanup of contaminated sites, “deterring noncompliance” as well as a philosophy of “cooperative federalism,” which has meant turning over enforcement responsibilities to states.

The $20 billion in commitments by polluters to correct problems was up from $14 billion in 2016, the E.P.A. said.

But the analysis by The Times showed that during the first nine months of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure, demands for such fixes dropped sharply. The agency sought about $1.2 billion worth of fixes, known as injunctive relief, in civil cases initiated during that period. Adjusted for inflation, that was about 12 percent of what was sought under Mr. Obama and 48 percent under Mr. Bush. Overall, The Times’s analysis said, cases started under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership dropped significantly from both of the previous administrations.

Cynthia Giles, who was the assistant administrator for the E.P.A.’s enforcement office during the Obama administration, said the data released Thursday should not be interpreted as the Trump administration being tough on polluters.

“Nearly all of the large cases included in E.P.A.’s annual enforcement report were essentially over before the new administration arrived at E.P.A.,” said Ms. Giles, who had reviewed The Times’s analysis. “Without an unprecedented disavowal of an already negotiated and public agreement, there is nothing Administrator Pruitt’s team could have done to change the outcome. In no sense do these cases reflect the intentions or actions of the new administration.”

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