Environmentalists are sparking news coverage with the misleading claim the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shed one-tenth of its criminal investigators since President Donald Trump’s election.
Figures obtained by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) show the number of special agents in EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division “fell from 157 in September 2016, shortly before Trump’s election, to 140 in April of this year,” The Washington Post reported.
Before going into more context, WaPo and PEER tied the decline in criminal enforcement agents to “a nearly three-decade low in criminal referrals to prosecutors during fiscal 2017,” echoing reporting by The New York Times from 2017.
“In our view you can’t get any more basic than anti-pollution enforcement,” PEER president Jeff Ruch told WaPo.
It’s not until the fifth paragraph, however, that WaPo admits “those enforcement figures have been on the decline for years even under during the last administration.” In fact, EPA criminal referrals to the Department of Justice have declined every year since 2011.
EPA had 208 criminal enforcement agents in fiscal year 2010, but only 163 special agents in fiscal year 2016, according to agency figures. EPA also has plans to hire criminal investigators.
“Administrator Pruitt is committed to enforcing the law and working with our law enforcement partners and the Department of Justice to punish criminals,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The change in the number of criminal enforcement agents has occurred over a number of years, and does not reflect any reduction in this Administration’s commitment to enforce the law against wrongdoers,” Block said.
EPA documents obtained by PEER through a Freedom of Information Act request show the agency was in the process of hiring six more criminal investigators as of April 1. PEER’s figures also don’t include three enforcement agents assigned to an office that supports investigative work.
PEER also hit EPA head Scott Pruitt for pulling criminal enforcement agents to serve on his personal security detail. EPA ordered “special agents from Boston, Denver and other regional offices to rotate in for two-week stints helping guard” Pruitt, WaPo reported.
The agency had to pull special agents to serve on Pruitt’s security detail once 24/7 security was approved shortly before his confirmation. Officials gave approval to hire up to 12 security personnel for Pruitt in June 2017.
EPA said it hired 10 new criminal investigators since Pruitt’s confirmation. Enforcement agents have focused on more complex, high-stakes criminal investigations in recent years, officials said. (RELATED: Ted Cruz Demands Investigation Into Taxpayer-Funded Global Warming ‘Advocacy’)
Federal law requires EPA to maintain at least 200 criminal enforcement agents, but it’s been years since that’s been the case. The agency has always had problems with keeping special agents, and it’s not unusual for those agents to serve as protective detail for administrators when necessary.
“Levels of CID agents have always been an issue in all Administrations,” Richard Alonso, a former EPA enforcement official, told WaPo. “While the numbers of case may have drop, the federal cases are much more significant.”
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