Prime Suspects

The Law Breaking Polluters America Fails to Inspect

July 1, 2000

Prime Suspects: Overview

According to a recent study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), state officials are falling down on the job of enforcing basic environmental laws. In the 1980s many governors asked for environmental enforcement responsibility to be shifted from the federal government to the states, but a months-long computer investigation by EWG shows that rather than cleaning up the nation's air and water the states are passing on the most basic of enforcement activities - inspecting the worst known polluters.

The worst states in the overall ranking of inspection rates were Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, and Massachusetts. The worst offenders for Clean Water Act non-inspection for known violators were Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois topped the list for not inspecting the worst violators of the Clean Air Act.

Overall, inspection rates under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts are pathetically low, particularly for the facilities classified by the EPA as high priority violators of the law. In fiscal years '98-'99, more than 840 high priority violators of the Clean Air Act and 321 high priority violators of the Clean Water Act were not inspected. A third of the nation's major air polluters have not been inspected for the last three years.

On June 22, 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives passed major cuts to the EPA's enforcement budget. If enacted by the full Congress, these cuts could obliterate any prospect that the inspection process could be restore to levels that actually deter environmental crimes. According to the EPA, if enacted, the budget reductions passed by the House would eliminate 3000 inspections, 200 criminal investigations, and 400 enforcement cases per year.