The Environmental Protection Agency is responding to criticism that the agency is lax in enforcing regulations like the Clean Water Act.
The critical analysis comes from the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. It shows the federal government referred significantly fewer cases to the Department of Justice than it has in years past.
"Under the Trump Administration enforcement has fallen pretty drastically," says Kyla Bennett with PEER. She says the crimes the EPA investigates can be pretty serious. "Purposefully dumping some kind of hazardous waste into waterways. Allowing waste from a coal mine to enter a waterway, something like that."
Trump’s pick to head the EPA disputed PEER’s analysis during his Senate confirmation hearing this week. Andrew Wheeler said the agency is focused on encouraging compliance in addition to prosecution.
"I think the more compliance assurance that we have, the fewer enforcement actions that we need to take," said Wheeler.
In the Mountain West region, the EPA prosecuted a total of 10 criminal cases in 2017 and 2018.
Find reporter Amanda Peacher on Twitter @amandapeacher.
Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.