After rolling back no less than 33 environmental rules, it's obvious that the Trump administration has no interest in regulating industry pollution.
Now, it appears that the White House is similarly hands-off when it comes to holding companies responsible for the dangerous effects of pollution.
A new analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project reveals that in the first year of the Trump administration, the number of fines collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a dramatic nosedive.
The review was focused on court cases concerning the violation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other federally-enforced environmental laws, which were put in place to protect the environment and public health.
Digging through the numbers, the report reveals that the Trump administration's EPA is resolving 44 percent fewer cases and obtaining 49 percent less in penalties than the averages from the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations in their first year of office.
Following the Obama administration, the difference is particularly stark. According to the report, Trump's EPA collected 60 percent fewer penalties from polluters than Obama's EPA during the same period.
To make these findings more digestible (and, admittedly, more discouraging), Vox has put together a clear and concise chart that details the extent to which polluters have been "let off the hook" under the current administration.
With President Trump taking unprecedented executive actions to revive the fossil fuel industry, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt cozying up to coal barons, the idea that the Trump administration is going soft on polluters is hardly surprising.
"President Trump's dismantling of the EPA means violators are less likely to be caught, making illegal pollution cheaper," said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement.
"The president's 'law and order' agenda apparently wasn't intended for fossil fuel companies and other big polluters."
Among the details of the report are 15 examples of industrial facilities that have received "Notices of Violation" from the EPA, but have not had to pay penalties.
"These cases help to illustrate why enforcement matters to public health, especially to the working class neighborhoods and that are more likely to be found next to the largest sources of the most dangerous pollutants," Schaeffer said.
"These are the very communities that President Trump keeps saying he wants to help. He can do so by giving EPA the leadership and the resources it needs to enforce our environmental laws."
Plus, even when polluters are forced to pay, the fines issued have been unusually lenient. For instance, a consent decree with Exxon Mobil ended with the EPA demanding that the company install $300 million-worth of pollution controls. But, as the EIP report points out, this amount factored into account pollution measures that the company installed years before the October verdict.
"Claims that an enforcement action somehow prompted pollution control investments that occurred almost five years earlier is simply not credible," the report concludes.
To be fair, some of the EPA's legal settlements are still in progress, however, the report argues that "the EPA's ability to uncover and correct these violations will fade if President Trump and Congress continue to slash the agency's enforcement budget."
That appears, in fact, to be the Trump administration's game-plan. Trump's budget for 2019 proposed a dramatic 23 percent funding cut that would make it much harder for the EPA to enforce its own rules.
Plus, trying to uphold environmental regulations when there is a mass exodus of staff is particularly difficult. Since the Trump administration took over, more than 700 employees have left or been forced out of the EPA, and the trend isn't likely to change anytime soon.
Pruitt's ultimate goal is to reduce the agency's workforce to just 3,200 employees – roughly 20 percent of its 15,000-some workforce.
"Enforcement matters, especially to the people who live and work next to plants that continue to release more pollution than the law allows," the report reads.
The EPA's own data reveals that more than a quarter of a million people live within breathing distance of the fifteen facilities profiled in the report - some of which have been accused of violating air pollution limits for lead, sulfur dioxide and other dangerous pollutants.
George Czerniak, the former EPA Director of the Air and Radiation Division, said that unless the EPA's environmental rules are uniformly and systematically enforced, they will inevitably be relegated to simple "suggestions."
"The need for this vigilance continues today, with many violations arising from a company's failure to maintain and properly operate its pollution control equipment, as well as the failure to capture and direct pollution to control equipment," he said in a statement released earlier this year.
"These violations often cause exposure to unhealthful and sometimes toxic levels of pollution in the surrounding area, all too often impacting segments of society that are already disadvantaged."
Sure enough, almost all of the industrial facilities examined in the report were surrounded by communities with poverty rates well above the national average.
"There will be no environmental justice for these neighborhoods if local polluters are not held accountable for violating laws that protect the public's health," the report concludes.
The report has been published by the Environmental Integrity Project.
Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.