On March 26, 2020, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program” authored by Susan Parker Bodine, (Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance) is a 7-page temporary policy, in which the EPA addresses industry concerns over non-compliance issues as a result of COVID-19. Staff shortages, travel restrictions and other imposed regulations are affecting facility operations, reporting obligations and ability to meet required deadlines.
The policy is a reactive answer, broadly addressing industry concerns. The EPA is assuming that all industries will operate under the covenant of “good faith” meticulously documenting any inability to meet required deadlines. inclusive of chemical plants, oil refineries and steel manufacturers. Industries will be allowed to exceed emission allowance if they can cite COVID-19 as the reason for non-compliance. Under The Clean Air Act, penalties for exceeding emission allowance can reach $35,000.00 per day; per violation up to $295,000.00. The new policy allows industries to dodge monetary penalties, using COVID-19 as a crutch. Without a proper system of checks and balances, undocumented pollution will contribute to further health complications, stress on the medical community and deplete precious resources.
This policy is retroactive to March 13, 2020.
American Petroleum Institute (API), was the first to request relief from President Trump. The oil industry’s largest trade group, API submitted a letter to Andrew Wheeler detailing how the COVID-19 crisis has caused infrastructure and compliance roadblocks. The API lists challenges such as administrative constraints while working from home, monitoring requirements, delay of infrastructure projects, and relief from leak detection and repair. The result was a broadly written set of guidelines issued by the EPA, “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program”.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the Trump Administration defend the decision to suspend enforcement of environmental laws. On March 13, 2020 Wheeler was quoted by the press defending the memorandum “The EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements.” The EPA is adamant that they are working diligently to provide flexibility to organizations while protecting public and environmental health during these unprecedented times. The indirect conflict that lies within, is The EPA agrees to relieve industries of monetary penalties, while environment and public health suffers as a result of potential toxins being released into air, water and land supply
Openly opposing the policy is Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Brune is adamant that “Donald Trump and Andrew Wheeler are exploiting this pandemic to make toxic pollution legal.” Concurring with Brune is Former Obama-era EPA chief Gina McCarthy, now President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, calling this policy “an open license to pollute.” She believes that It’s unconscionable to use a public health crisis to justify lack of legal responsibility. However, it’s public knowledge that the Trump Administration is heavily in favor of supporting environmental rollbacks.
In a New York Times article, December 21, 2019, “95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled back by the Trump Administration” air pollution, drilling, infrastructure, animals, toxic substances and water pollution rules were being rolled back for being burdensome to large corporations. A report by The New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, reports that supported rollbacks could lead to poorer air quality, increase greenhouse emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths in the coming years. Still, President Trump has made eliminating regulations a top priority. Uninterested or in denial, he has made a point of ignoring advisement on the quality of the environment, and the linkage it has to population health.
As a Federal Agency, the EPA’s mission is to protect human and environmental health. They create standards and laws that reduce environmental risks and ensure Americans have access to clean water, air and land. Considering the wrath of the current pandemic, the EPA should be hyper vigilant of regulated industries, confirming that all protocols are followed, in an attempt to prevent further complications of COVID-19. As a result of suspending sanctions, monitoring obligations, and laboratory analysis deadlines, there will not be record of the violations, or collateral damage caused as a result of this decree.
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