By Brian Gumm, Center for Progressive Reform
With the congressional majority continuing to gut enforcement budgets, forcing federal environmental and workplace safety agencies to cut staff, criminal prosecution of corporate bad actors is more important than ever. That’s the thrust of Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar Rena Steinzor’s commentary in the May/June issue of The Environmental Forum, the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute.
As Steinzor notes in the piece:
The BP [oil spill] and Volkswagen [emissions cheating] scandals, by their size and audacity, should motivate significant changes in the approach to criminal environmental enforcement, and if those changes make [the federal Department of Justice] more aggressive, they will come just in time, because EPA and the states’ routine civil enforcement is arguably in worse shape than at any time since the agency was created 46 years ago. EPA has endured a decade of deep budget cuts and endless bureaucracy bashing. In constant dollars, EPA has less to spend than at any time since the 1990s, when it began to implement the latest Clean Air Act Amendments. Last year, it announced a 30 percent cut in routine inspections and a 23 percent reduction in civil enforcement actions. Most of the states delegated to implement regulatory programs are in at least as dire shape.
Predictably, industry interests are none too pleased with the renewed focus on prosecuting corporate crimes and holding executives accountable for their companies’ irresponsible actions:
DOJ’s toughening stance seems to have accelerated the momentum of conservative efforts on Capitol Hill to weaken the laws that apply to so-called “regulatory crimes,” shoving health, safety, and environmental criminal enforcement into the powerful cross-currents of an election year. Leading the charge for making it tougher to prosecute white collar crimes in the health, safety, and environmental arenas are the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and Koch Industries.
Steinzor explores that cynical push to fold corporate crimes into an overall criminal justice reform bill in another commentary, which was published in the Spring edition of The American Prospect.
Alongside Steinzor’s in-depth Environmental Forum column, commentators from the DOJ, a legal defense firm, and the oil and gas industry’s American Petroleum Institute offer their views on addressing environmental and workplace safety crimes.