The Politics of Protection

At various times, President Bush has asserted that his “biggest job is to protect the American people.” However, the last 6+ years have amply demonstrated that the Decider has a decidedly narrow notion of what it means “to protect,” as evidenced by the habitual favor granted to corporate fat cats at the expense of the American people. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that “the Food and Drug Administration does very little to ensure the safety of the millions of people who participate in clinical trials.” Today, the Washington Post offers a report, excerpted below, that details how the Environmental Protection Agency is doing less to protect the public from polluters. And, in the coming days, the President will likely veto a bipartisan bill to provide a needed expansion of health care coverage for this nation’s children. Heckuva job, Bushie…

Bush’s EPA Is Pursuing Fewer Polluters

The Environmental Protection Agency’s pursuit of criminal cases against polluters has dropped off sharply during the Bush administration, with the number of prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions all down by more than a third, according to Justice Department and EPA data.

The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics.

Critics of the agency say its flagging efforts have emboldened polluters to flout U.S. environmental laws, threatening progress in cleaning the air, protecting wildlife, eliminating hazardous materials, and countless other endeavors overseen by the EPA.

“You don’t get cleanup, and you don’t get deterrence,” said Eric Schaeffer, who resigned as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement in 2002 to protest the administration’s approach to enforcement and now heads the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group. “I don’t think this is a problem with agents in the field. They’re capable of doing the work. They lack the political support they used to be able to count on, especially in the White House.”

The slower pace of enforcement mirrors a decline in resources for pursuing environmental wrongdoing. The EPA now employs 172 investigators in its Criminal Investigation Division, below the minimum of 200 agents required by the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush. [full text]