***Cynthia Giles is no longer at the University of Chicago***
By Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory
The highway billboard at the entrance to town still displays a giant campaign photograph of President Trump, who handily won the election across industrial Ohio. But a revolt is brewing here in East Liverpool over Mr. Trump’s move to slow down the federal government’s policing of air and water pollution.
The City Council moved unanimously last month to send a protest letter to the Environmental Protection Agency about a hazardous waste incinerator near downtown. Since Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. has not moved to punish the plant’s owner, even after extensive evidence was assembled during the Obama administration that the plant had repeatedly, and illegally, released harmful pollutants into the air.
“I don’t know where we go,” Councilman William Hogue, a retired social studies teacher, said in frustration to his fellow council members. “They haven’t resolved anything.”
Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, has said the Trump administration’s high-profile regulatory rollback does not mean a free pass for violators of environmental laws. But as the Trump administration moves from one attention-grabbing headline to the next, it has taken a significant but less-noticed turn in the enforcement of federal pollution laws.
An analysis of enforcement data by The New York Times shows that the administration has adopted a more lenient approach than the previous two administrations — Democratic and Republican — toward polluters like those in East Liverpool.
The Times built a database of civil cases filed at the E.P.A. during the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations. During the first nine months under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. started about 1,900 cases, about one-third fewer than the number under President Barack Obama’s first E.P.A. director and about one-quarter fewer than under President George W. Bush’s over the same time period…
…Cynthia Giles, the former assistant administrator for the E.P.A.’s enforcement office during the Obama administration, also prepared a separate version of the data. She described as a “stunning decline” the reduced efforts under Mr. Trump to require companies to bring their facilities into compliance with pollution laws.
“The Pruitt E.P.A. is cratering on the enforcement work that matters most: holding the biggest polluters accountable,” said Ms. Giles, now a director at the Energy & Environment Lab at the University of Chicago.
Some enforcement experts suggested that the E.P.A. under Mr. Pruitt might have filed fewer cases because it was going after larger penalties. But according to the Times analysis, most of the top penalties were smaller than those in the previous two administrations. And the nine-month window included the single largest civil case filed by the E.P.A., against Exxon Mobil…