EPA Backs Off Enforcing Pollution Rules as Virus Strains Work
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will temporarily relax civil enforcement of various environmental regulations, a move it says is necessary given worker shortages and travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a memo issued Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency said it wouldn’t go after companies that fail to satisfy many “routine monitoring and reporting obligations” because of the coronavirus, as long as they documented why they couldn’t fulfill the mandates, worked to resolve the issues and sought to minimize the effects.
“We expect facilities to comply with their obligations under the law,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters on a conference call. “But where the impacts of COVID-19 make that impracticable,” the EPA will apply “enforcement discretion.”
The move drew an immediate rebuke from environmental activists who said the decision gives companies carte blanche to pollute the air even as a lethal respiratory virus spreads worldwide.
“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” wrote a coalition of activists led by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project.
Nevertheless, oil companies, chemical manufacturers and refiners have argued they need flexibility while struggling to get contractors and suppliers to sites, especially in areas under stay-at-home orders. Although oil refineries and some other facilities are exempt from lockdown requirements, those waivers are not consistently being applied to third-party suppliers and contractors.
Worker shortages and supply chain disruptions are complicating air monitoring at oil wells, the collection of samples from industrial facilities, and even routine paperwork, the American Petroleum Institute said in a letter to the EPA this week.
Wheeler said the EPA’s move isn’t a blank check and that the agency will still go after bad actors.
“The EPA is still on the beat and we will still enforce environmental laws, particularly any instances where there are criminal violations or if there is acute risk or imminent threats,” Wheeler said.
“We want to make sure the American public is protected, but at the same time, we do not want to penalize good actors who are unable to act because of the circumstances surrounding this pandemic.”
The agency hasn’t said whether it will yield to requests from refiners to delay a requirement to shift to cleaner-burning, summer-grade gasoline. Refiners are worried about their ability to offload stockpiles of winter-grade gasoline before the June 1 deadline, as coronavirus-spurred travel restrictions keep many cars off the roads.
Wheeler said he hoped to have an announcement on fuels as soon as Friday, and that other matters are being handled on a case-by-case basis. For instance, the EPA is set to separately detail its plans for companies cleaning up contaminated Superfund sites.
©2020 Bloomberg News
In The News
RESERVE, La. (AP) — Michael Coleman's house is the last one standing on his tiny street, squeezed between a sprawling... Read More
RESERVE, La. (AP) — Michael Coleman's house is the last one standing on his tiny street, squeezed between a sprawling oil refinery whose sounds and smells keep him up at night and a massive grain elevator that covers his pickup in dust and, he says, exacerbates... Read More
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that Tennessee and Mississippi must limit their use of water from... Read More
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that Tennessee and Mississippi must limit their use of water from an underground aquifer to give each other a chance at it. The ruling takes on added significance as global warming makes water rights a touchier subject... Read More
WASHINGTON — A new, groundbreaking study suggests not only is there strong bipartisan support for corporate efforts to address environmental,... Read More
WASHINGTON — A new, groundbreaking study suggests not only is there strong bipartisan support for corporate efforts to address environmental, social and governance challenges, but that the bipartisan appeal of these initiatives dramatically increases among Americans under the age of 45. The study, “Unlocking the Bipartisan... Read More
WASHINGTON — Representatives from more than 100 countries recently gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate conference in an... Read More
WASHINGTON — Representatives from more than 100 countries recently gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 climate conference in an effort to pledge commitments and action against climate change, especially actions to prevent temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, which would unleash severe climate change... Read More
WASHINGTON — House Democrats succeeded in including a proposed fee on methane emissions in the Build Back Better Act, but... Read More
WASHINGTON — House Democrats succeeded in including a proposed fee on methane emissions in the Build Back Better Act, but the measure will have to endure scrutiny from centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., before it becomes law. The Democrats' framework for the Build Back Better Act... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats brushed aside months-long divisions and approached House passage of their expansive social and environment bill Friday,... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats brushed aside months-long divisions and approached House passage of their expansive social and environment bill Friday, as President Joe Biden and his party neared a defining win in their drive to use their control of government to funnel its resources toward their... Read More