Former EPA chief says Bush is too nice to polluters and business

By Colleen Valles The Associated Press
Saturday November 16, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Polluters are getting off way too easy under the Bush administration, according to the former chief of civil enforcement for the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Civil penalties paid by polluters during the Bush administration plunged to $51 million in the past fiscal year, about half the average collected during the previous three years, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project, a group that lobbies for tougher enforcement. 

“They’re not looking to pick fights with industry. In fact, they’re looking to avoid them,” said Eric Schaeffer, who has led the project since resigning his EPA post in February to protest what he considered a weakening of environmental protections by the White House. 

Two-thirds of the penalties collected in the last fiscal year were already in the works before President Clinton left office, the project found. 

Schaeffer, who was appointed to his EPA position by the first President Bush and served through the Clinton Administration, said in an interview Friday that it’s up to citizens to keep up the pressure on government to keep our air and water clean. 

“If there’s no demand for enforcement from the public, and there’s very low expectations, I think the administration will live down to those expectations. I don’t think you’re going to see any boldness,” he said. 

But EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the agency has not lessened its focus on enforcement. 

Martyak said that the value of corrective action the courts required polluters to take nearly doubled from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2001, from $2.6 billion to $4.4 billion. 

“The administration has made it very clear that we are to be aggressively enforcing environmental laws,” Martyak said. 

Schaeffer’s group found otherwise in its Nov. 5 report, which focused on settlements under the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and other statutes, and didn’t include Superfund or Oil Pollution Act cases. It said the $51 million collected in 2002 dropped from $140 million in 1999, almost $85 million in 2000 and $95 million in 2001. 

Schaeffer, in San Francisco Friday to speak at a dinner honoring Sierra Club donors, also urged the Bush administration to focus on how large agricultural operations comply with clean air and water laws, and to force cities to upgrade their sewage systems. 

“We still kind of have the family farm myth in agricultural politics, but it’s so industrial at this point,” he said. “This isn’t Old MacDonald. There’s no reason they should be treated as sacred and exempt based on some antique idea of what farming is in America. These are big, big commercial operations.”