Most U.S. companies suspected of breaking environmental laws are never charged with a crime, as federal prosecutors often opt to seek civil fines instead of pursuing criminal sanctions, according to a report released yesterday by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Corporations investigated for polluting were less likely to be prosecuted than individuals accused of similar crimes, the study found. Federal prosecutors declined to pursue 70 percent of the cases referred by the EPA and other investigators against companies for possible environmental crimes, while it declined 55 percent of the cases against individuals. The Clinton administration has been criticized by some enviro groups for being too lax in its enforcement of environmental laws and too lenient with corporate polluters.

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