Alex Berezow and Todd Myers write at Real Clear Science about the Environmental Protection Agency‘s curious response to its own role in the accidental spill of toxic wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River.

After the Gulf oil spill, the agency was vindictive in its treatment of BP. It banned the oil company, as well as 21 subsidiaries unconnected to the spill, from obtaining new federal contracts due to a “lack of business integrity.” The ban was lifted only after BP sued the EPA. In total, BP paid $54 billion in settlements, including $5.5 billion to the EPA for violating the Clean Water Act.

To be clear, it is not vindictive to hold BP – or anyone else – accountable for environmental damage. But, it is not responsible for the EPA to strain its authority to engage in a self-serving money grab.

The situation with the Animas provides more evidence that EPA’s desire to expand or protect its power can too often trump environmental stewardship.

For example, EPA Director Gina McCarthy told reporters, “The good news is [the Animas River] seems to be restoring itself.” Imagine the (justifiable) outrage from the EPA had BP made such a claim only a few days after the Gulf spill was capped when much of the damage had yet to be assessed.

And it’s not just British oil companies the EPA targets. The EPA threatened a Wyoming man with a $75,000-per-day fine for building a pond on his own property. Such behavior led a Washington Post editorial to observe, “The EPA is earning a reputation for abuse.”

The EPA often argues that money should be no object when protecting the environment. The same agency, however, has been circumspect about paying the significant costs for the damage it caused.

The wide gap between the cavalier attitude toward businesses and personal property rights and their own squeamishness to hold themselves accountable demonstrates that institutional – rather than environmental – protection is playing a decisive factor in EPA decision-making.