New EPA Fugitive List = Pretty Useless

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The EPA today released a new, “America’s Most Wanted”-style list of environmental fugitives. Many of the fugitives, who have been charged with everything from “illegal discharge of hazardous pollutants” to “illegal asbestos removal,” are suspected to have fled to countries like Syria and Denmark. Grant Nakayama, an official in the EPA’s enforcement division, said in a press release that “Putting this information on the EPA’s website will increase the number of ‘eyes’ looking for environmental fugitives.”

While portraying people who commit environmental crimes as serious criminals is definitely laudable, EPA enforcement has been almost completely toothless under the Bush administration. You gotta wonder if, even if they the EPA does get information on these fugitives, they’d actually try to convict them. According to the Associated Press, in 2008 the EPA opened 100 fewer criminal enforcement cases than they did in 2004. In 2006, it began shutting down its research libraries. As one senior EPA scientist, Wes Wilson, told us in the current issue, the EPA has moved far from its investigative past. “Now we sit around and basically do nothing,” he said.

Not only is the EPA investigating fewer cases, it’s getting political interference on the cases it has pursued. According to a recently retired EPA official, the DOJ may have improperly shut down an investigation of a huge 2006 BP oil spill. Maybe the EPA is just treading water waiting for an Obama-related reorganization, but I couldn’t help but feel the list is a waste of resources without including more headshots of CEOs from oil and energy companies. Though CEOs aren’t fugitives, when it comes down to it, their corporations are the ones doing the major damage, not guys like Alessandro Giordano who “illegally imported automobiles that did not meet the United States emission standards.” For my taxpayer dollar, I’d prefer to see less energy spent looking for small-time criminals abroad, and more effort on catching those really big fish here at home.

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