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U.S. federal enforcement of anti-pollution laws has plummeted since George W. Bush became president, according to U.S. Justice Department figures released in September by the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Requests by federal agencies for criminal prosecution have dropped by more than half since 2000 while such referrals for civil prosecution have declined by more than a third.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for most of the anti-pollution enforcement, environmental prosecutions are also initiated from cases developed by other federal agencies, ranging from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to the Army Corps of Engineers.
PEER found that referrals for new environmental criminal prosecutions government-wide have dropped by 54 percent from 2000 to 2005. In the EPA, such requests for prosecution fell 33 percent during the same period.
Not only are the enforcement numbers under George W. Bush much lower than those during the Clinton administration, in many categories they are below those of the George H.W. Bush presidency.
"Corporate transgressors have growing reason for confidence that environmental violations will not trigger federal prosecution," says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
The biggest cause for concern, according to PEER, is the steep drop of new cases entering the prosecution pipeline. Pollution prosecutions often take years to develop. Many prosecutions concluded today are cases developed under the Clinton administration.
Climate Change Costs
California Attorney General Lockyer says that global warming is already hurting California.
In September, he filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco alleging that auto companies should pay damages as a result. Lockyer is suing General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
The lawsuit alleges that the auto companies created a "public nuisance" by polluting the air with carbon dioxide, causing global warming - thus melting the snow pack, raising the sea level on the coast of California, increasing ozone pollution in urban areas and increasing the threat of wildfires.
Under the law, a "public nuisance" is an unreasonable interference with a public right, or an action that interferes with or causes harm to life, health or property.
"Global warming is causing significant harm to California's environment, economy, agriculture and public health. The impacts are already costing millions of dollars and the price tag is increasing," says Lockyer. "Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the federal government and automakers have refused to act. It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis."
The lawsuit alleges that California "is spending millions of dollars on planning, monitoring, and infrastructure changes to address a large spectrum of current and anticipated impacts, including reduced snow pack, coastal and beach erosion, increased ozone pollution, sea water intrusion into Delta drinking supplies, response to impacts on wildlife, including endangered species and fish, wildfire risks, and the long-term need to monitor on-going and inevitable impacts. California has already begun to address the decline in the snow pack and earlier melting of the snow pack in order to avert water shortages and flooding in the future."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages. It is the first to seek monetary damages for global warming.
Ex-FDA Exec Pleads Guilty
Former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Lester M. Crawford pled guilty in October to a Conflict of Interest charge and Making False Financial Disclosures to the U.S. Senate and the Executive Branch.
Crawford faces a sentence of up to one year in prison on each charge.
Crawford served as Deputy Commissioner between February 2002 and March 2004, when he became Acting Commissioner. In February 2005, Crawford was nominated to become Commissioner. In July 2005, the U.S. Senate confirmed Crawford, who remained Commissioner until September 30, 2005.
As a senior FDA employee, Crawford was required to file regular financial disclosure reports. He was required to make similar disclosures to the Senate when nominated to be FDA commissioner.
Senior FDA officials are prohibited from holding a financial interest in companies with significant business before the agency.
During the relevant time periods, Crawford and/or his wife owned but did not disclose ownership of forbidden stocks in Pepsico, Sysco, Kimberly-Clark and Embrex.
Crawford's ownership of Sysco and Pepsico stock and his role as chairman of the FDA's Obesity Working Group ("OWG") gave rise to the Conflict of Interest charge, to which he has also pled guilty. There is no evidence, according to the Justice Department, that the OWG's conclusions were altered because of the Crawfords' ownership of Pepsico or Sysco stock.
- Russell Mokhiber