EPA dials back environmental enforcement during pandemic

Katie Ramirez
March 29, 2020

In a shocking move that has stunned former EPA officials, the agency will let the chemical, coal, petroleum, electric utility and other industries use "enforcement discretion" to determine for themselves whether they should be required to monitor and report air and water pollution discharges. The regulatory environmental laws in place are no longer being enforced.

The EPA said the policy "addresses different categories of noncompliance differently". Environmental advocates said the policy allows industry to pollute without effect. Some critics have said these new waivers being issued by the EPA are merely "an open license to pollute".

"TRUTH: EPA is working hard to protect public health & the enviro while providing a small degree of flexibility during these extraordinary times", Wheeler wrote.

In a statement to the Hill, Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA's Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, said the new policy "tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way "caused" by the virus pandemic".

"In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request", states the order. The policy also describes the steps that regulated facilities should take to qualify for enforcement discretion.

"At the EPA, we are cognizant of potential worker shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the travel and social distancing restrictions imposed by both governments and corporations or recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit the spread of COVID-19", according to a memo from the agency's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Parker Bodine to all government and private sector partners. "Finally, these consequences may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water".

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The policy, which the EPA said is "temporary", will be backdated to March 13.

The Trump administration has made a decision to ease enforcement of environmental regulations covering polluting industries to help them cope with impacts from the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday.

'This temporary policy is created to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment, ' he explained.

The EPA said in a memo outlining the changes that it does not plan to fine polluting industries for violating certain monitoring and reporting requirements during the outbreak.

Hugh McDiarmid is Communications Manager for the state agency. You can help pay some of the cost by sponsoring a day on CRO for as little as $100 or by donating any amount you're comfortable with.

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