Trump EPA's pollution, waste reduction numbers are lowest in a decade

Trump EPA's pollution, waste reduction numbers are lowest in a decade
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The pounds of pollutants and waste that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reduced under the Trump administration are at their lowest levels in a decade, according to an analysis by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) published Friday.

EPA’s 2018 reduction of pollution and hazardous waste is the second-lowest amount on record, dating back to 2008. President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE’s first year in office, 2017, was the worst year, according to the analysis.

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According to numbers released in EPA’s annual year in review this week, EPA in 2018 was responsible for the “treatment, disposal, or elimination of 809 million pounds of pollutants and waste.”

The number is nearly double the 462 million pounds of waste EPA discarded in 2017. However, both are in stark contrast to levels reported in previous years under the Obama administration and the last year of the Bush administration.

Between 2008 and 2016, EPA reduced an average of 11,438 million pounds of pollutants per year, according to EDGI’s analysis of EPA data.

The third-lowest year on record was 2015, during which the EPA reduced waste by 1,068 million pounds. The figure is roughly 25 percent more than the latest Trump administration numbers.

In 2016, former President Obama's last year in office, the EPA reduced 62,224 million pounds of pollution — the highest number under his administration. EPA reduced 10,473 million pounds during former President George W. Bush's first year.

The EPA touted the waste number this week in its annual review as an indicator of the “major accomplishments and environmental progress during the Trump administration,” which also showed that “America is on a path to a stronger, safer, and cleaner future."

The waste measurement is an alternative measurement to EPA’s civil and criminal penalty data that instead considers the outcome of enforcement actions. Two things are considered in the waste calculation: “pollution reduced, treated or eliminated” and “hazardous waste reduced, treated, or properly disposed of,” according to EPA.

“Proclaiming that 2018’s pollution reduction numbers show that EPA enforcement is healthy is like saying, in the midst of the Great Depression, that the unemployment rates for 1934 are healthy because they are better than 1933, the worst unemployment year on record. The boast is absurd when compared to other years,” said Leif Fredrickson, author of EDGI’s analysis.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has in the recent months promoted the agency's 2018 numbers as proof that EPA is doing its job to stem pollution. He broadcast the data on a call with reporters in mid-January.

“Enforcement and compliance are top priorities for EPA," Wheeler said.

“There still are bad actors," he added."We can make the bad actors think twice by rigorously enforcing the law."

EPA’s focus on the waste reduction numbers come as the agency is looking to pivot from a focus on enforcement numbers.

Recent reports show that both criminal and civil enforcement numbers at the agency are at their lowest in decades — the more traditional measure of EPA’s work to reduce pollution. The number of cases brought against polluters and the amounts settled for are far below those seen in past years.

Both the Government Accountability Office and EPA’s Inspector General are investigating the agency’s decline in its 2017 numbers. Enforcement numbers this year are expected to be just as low, or lower.

A January study by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found that the number of criminal enforcement cases EPA referred to the Department of Justice collapsed in fiscal 2018, a nearly 60 percent reduction from 2011 and a 72 percent decline from the level of enforcement activity 20 years ago, in 1998.

A separate analysis from former EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance head Cynthia Giles found that the dollar amount from civil penalties for polluters dropped significantly both in 2018 and 2017.

EPA is expected to soon release its annual enforcement data.