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Whither EPA enforcement?

EPA investigators and attorneys are questioning the agency's enforcement efforts - including decisions to assign criminal agents to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman's "personal security detail" - as the number of cases referred for federal prosecution by the agency drops, according to OMB Watch.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently released a survey of agency investigators and enforcement attorneys, finding that nearly 70 percent of the 120 respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, "The EPA criminal program is headed in the right direction."

The survey included an essay section allowing respondents to describe how EPA's criminal enforcement program can be improved. A number of respondents referenced Whitman's practice of assigning criminal investigators to "security detail," which often involves running errands for her, among other personal tasks.

Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that "[n]ew security assignments are significantly diverting resources away from enforcement against environmental crimes." But EPA officials claim that added security has been "necessitated by the post-Sept. 11 terrorism concerns and specific threats against Whitman, which they declined to describe," according to the Washington Post.

New figures released by PEER show that enforcement efforts at the agency have weakened since the President Bush took office - with a 40 percent drop in referrals for federal prosecution of criminal pollution cases, and a 25 percent drop in civil pollution cases.

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