Justice Department Throws Out 9 Trump-Era Environmental Rules, Will Let Companies Negotiate Fines

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Varun Hukeri General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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The Justice Department has withdrawn nine Trump administration rules on environmental law enforcement.

The move restores a directive that allows companies charged with regulatory violations to negotiate a reduction in fines by paying for environmental projects.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams stated in a memo Thursday that the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) of the Justice Department conducted an internal review after President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review their environmental policies.

Williams — a career official appointed in 2010 — concluded that the Trump administration rules were “inconsistent with longstanding Division policy and practice” and could “impede the full exercise of enforcement discretion in the Division’s cases.”

The Justice Department notably restored the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) in settlements with companies charged with violating environmental regulations.

SEPs have been commonly used in settlements by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for roughly three decades, according to The Hill. The practice allows alleged violators to finance environmental projects in order to reduce the number of fines they may have to pay.

Companies can credit up to 80% of what they spend on environmental projects towards a reduction in fines, and most alleged violators often choose to clean up areas they polluted in the first place, according to The Hill. (RELATED: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments In Case That Could Determine The Future Of Suits Against Energy Companies)

The Justice Department under the Trump administration halted the practice in March 2020. Then ENRD head and Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark called the use of SEPs in agency settlements a “departure from sound enforcement practices,” according to The Hill.

The Trump administration’s suspension of ESPs drew criticism from both the energy industry and environmental groups.

“Everybody likes these for a reason,” the Obama administration’s assistant EPA administrator Cynthia Giles told The Hill last year. “Companies like them because it helps them improve their public image but because it gives them a chance to give something back. And government likes them because they help to resolve these cases in a way that benefits everyone.”