United States: EPA's Fiscal Year 2017 Statistics Reflect Accelerating Decline In Federal Environmental Enforcement

On February 8, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its environmental enforcement statistics for fiscal year 2017 (FY 2017). Because EPA's fiscal year ends in September, the newly released statistics capture the final three plus months of the Obama administration and slightly more than the first eight months of the Trump administration. The enforcement statistics appear noteworthy on their face: commitments of $1.2 billion by private parties to clean up contaminated sites; criminal fines, restitution, and mitigation of approximately $2.98 billion; increases in the value of actions to improve compliance; and $1.6 billion in collected administrative and civil judicial penalties.1 Despite these seemingly impressive statistics, the enforcement results actually reflect a rapid decline in environmental enforcement by EPA.2 This steep decline in environmental enforcement began during the Obama administration and appears to be accelerating during the Trump administration.

It can be difficult to assess environmental enforcement statistics from year to year because federal environmental enforcement cases typically take several years to reach resolution. Moreover, extremely large cases, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, can skew enforcement results in any given year.

Despite the difficulty of assessing the progress in environmental enforcement in any given year, there is a clear pattern of declining environmental enforcement by EPA over the past decade. The number of inspections and evaluations by EPA has declined from over 20,000 inspections in fiscal year 2010 to slightly more than 15,000 inspections in fiscal year 2015 to approximately 11,700 inspections in fiscal year 2017.3 Likewise, the number of civil environmental enforcement cases initiated by EPA has dropped from 3,436 cases in fiscal year 2010 to 2,378 cases in fiscal year 2015 and only 1,938 cases in fiscal year 2017.4 The number of criminal enforcement cases initiated by EPA has also dropped from approximately 350 cases in fiscal year 2010 to 213 cases in fiscal year 2015 and 115 cases in fiscal year 2017.5

While there is little doubt that federal environmental enforcement declined in the first year of the Trump administration, it had already started a steady decline under the Obama administration. Indeed, the Obama-era 2014-2018 strategic plan for EPA anticipated a 25 percent drop in inspections and evaluations below baseline for the period ending in 2018 and a 28 percent drop in initiated civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases.6 The actual drop in annual inspections and evaluations and initiated civil judicial and administrative enforcements has been even steeper than predicted.7 Year-over-year declines between fiscal year 2016 and 2017 – which, as noted above, are not an apples-to-apples comparison of the Obama and Trump administrations because EPA's FY 2017 began on October 1, 2016 – indicate a drop of approximately 15 percent in environmental inspections and evaluations and a drop of approximately 20 percent in initiated civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases.

The declines in environmental enforcement by EPA over the past decade can be traced to a variety of factors, including budget cuts, staff reductions, and EPA's increasing reliance on self-reporting of violations, electronic monitoring, and data sharing with the public (as described in EPA's Next Generation Compliance strategic initiative). EPA's budget has been repeatedly slashed over the past decade, from a recent peak of $10.3 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $8.14 billion in fiscal year 2015 to $8.06 billion in fiscal year 2017.8 Although the final fiscal year 2018 budget for EPA is more in line with the past few years, President Trump initially proposed a budget of $5.655 billion.9 Likewise, EPA's staff has been eroding over the past decade from 17,278 employees in fiscal year 2010 to 14,725 employees in fiscal year 2015. Despite a slight uptick to 15,408 EPA employees in fiscal year 2017,10 EPA has offered and obtained hundreds of voluntary buyouts and proposed further staff reductions to 11,611 full-time employees in fiscal year 2018.11

During the Obama administration, Next Generation Compliance was touted as a means of addressing environmental compliance through use of electronic self-reporting, new environmental monitoring technology, and improved transparency.12 EPA signaled that it sought to increase the role of states, tribes, and the public to play a role in assessing and enforcing environmental compliance by automating environmental monitoring and reporting and increasing the amount of environmental data available to the public.

While it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will continue to support Next Generation Compliance, the current administration's EPA has supported increased collaboration and delegation of environmental enforcement responsibility to states and tribes.13 EPA recently announced it will defer to states on most environmental compliance and enforcement matters, except in specified circumstances, including instances in which there are deficient in-state environmental programs, significant noncompliance not addressed by states, requests for enforcement by states, cases involving cross-boundary pollution or defendants with operations in multiple states, cases involving government-owned facilities, emergencies, and serious criminal matters.14

In light of EPA's decision to turn over much of its environmental enforcement docket to the states, EPA's enforcement results will likely continue to erode at an accelerated pace. In the environmental investigations Trump's EPA does choose to pursue, the agency has announced it may also rely more on informal environmental enforcement to resolve environmental violations.15 An emphasis on informal resolution of environmental violations appears aimed at avoiding litigation, conserving agency resources, speeding compliance, and potentially minimizing the costs of compliance and penalties for environmental violators. This approach, combined with anticipated budget cuts and additional staff reductions, will almost certainly result in further reductions in the environmental enforcement footprint of EPA in the near future.

Matthew D. Thurlow is a partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP. He formerly worked as an environmental enforcement attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.


1 EPA Announces 2017 Annual Environmental Enforcement Results, U.S. EPA, Feb. 8, 2018, available at https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-2017-annual-environmental-enforcement-results.

2 Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory, Under Trump, E.P.A. Has Slowed Actions Against Polluters, and Put Limits on Enforcement Officers, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2017).

3 Enforcement Annual Results Analysis and Trends for Fiscal Year 2017, U.S. EPA, Feb. 8, 2018, available at https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/enforcement-annual-results-analysis-and-trends-fiscal-year-2017.

4 Id.

5 Id.

U.S. EPA's 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, p. 73-74, April 10, 2014, available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-09/documents/epa_strategic_plan_fy14-18.pdf.

7 The drop in annual inspections and evaluations between fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2017 has been approximately 40 percent, and the drop in initiated civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases has been approximately 36 percent during that period. See supra note 4.

8 EPA's Budget and Spending, available at https://www.epa.gov/planandbudget/budget (last updated Aug. 29, 2017).

9 U.S. EPA, FY 2018 Budget, available at https://www.epa.gov/planandbudget/fy2018.

10 See supra note 9.

11 FY 2018 EPA Budget in Brief, p. 1, May 2017, available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-05/documents/fy-2018-budget-in-brief.pdf; Brady Dennis, EPA under Trump shrinks to Reagan-era staffing levels, Washington Post, (Sept. 6, 2017).

12 Next Generation Compliance Strategic Plan 2014-2017, U.S. EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, October 2014; Cynthia Giles, Next Generation Compliance, The Environmental Forum, p. 22 (September-October 2013).

13 National Program Manager (NPM) Fiscal Years 2018-2019, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Sept. 29, 2017, available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-10/documents/fy18-19-oeca-npm-guidance.pdf; Susan Parker Bodine, Interim OECA Guidance on Enhancing Regional-State Planning and Communication on Compliance Assurance Work in Authorized States, p. 2, Jan. 22, 2018 ("With respect to inspections and enforcement, the EPA will generally defer to authorized States as the primary day-to-day implementer of their authorized/delegated programs, except in specific situations.").

14 Id. at 3.

15 Inside EPA, Bodine Says "Informal" Enforcement May Cut Cases, But Speed Compliance (Feb. 1, 2018).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions