Clinton's Lack of Convictions

Article excerpt

PROSECUTION of environmental crimes in the United States has sharply fallen during the Clinton Administration, according to a compilation of court records released in November by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Boston Globe report and an Assistant United States Attorney who has suffered retaliation for pursuing pollution prosecutions under the Clinton Administration.

Comparing statistics from a three-year period in the Bush Administration (1989-91) with a similar period in the Clinton Administration (1996-98), the PEER review shows dramatic declines in criminal referrals, prosecutions and convictions:

* more than a one-quarter (27 percent) decrease in prosecutions;

* a greater than one-third (38 percent) drop in convictions; and

* a nearly 10 percent decline in the conviction rate.

Even though the Justice Department is pursuing fewer cases, it is also declining more cases (26 percent more) brought by referring agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While overall numbers for the second half of the Clinton Administration show some improvement, a key measure of enforcement -- the number of defendants sentenced to prison -- is down by one fourth in the last two years.

"The criminal environmental enforcement record of the previous incumbent was clearly better by virtually every measure of prosecutorial effort," comments PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, a former state prosecutor. "Maybe George Bush really was the Environmental President."

BAD FOR BUSINESS

In November, the Boston Globe reported another indicator that environmental criminal prosecution is on the wane. The paper reported on one of the county's largest environmental consulting companies, the International Technology Corporation of Pennsylvania, which said lax government enforcement of environmental laws is responsible for a downturn in its business.

"Demand for the company's services is heavily influenced by the level of enforcement of environmental laws and regulations," according to the company's 1997 annual report. "During the 1990s, spending by commercial clients has slowed primarily due to reduced implementation and enforcement activities by governmental regulatory authorities."

"In its 1998 annual report," the Globe reported, "the company again cited weakening enforcement by federal, state and local regulators. Environmental decisions by private industry in the United States, the company said, are now driven by economic concerns, and not regulatory and legal ones."

HARASSING PROSECUTORS

An on-the-ground perspective on environmental criminal enforcement is provided by Gregory Sasse, a decade-and-a-half Assistant United States Attorney in Cleveland, who says he has suffered retaliation for pursuing pollution prosecutions under the Clinton Administration. …