The US Environmental Protection Agency loosened pollution rules for factory pollution during the pandemic. On Thursday the agency released new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves.
A memo from Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said that the agency will exercise enforcement discretion for noncompliance in a policy that retroactively begins on March 13, 2020.
“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,” Bodine wrote.
The agency says that if compliance is not reasonably practicable, facilities with environmental compliance obligations should:
- Act responsibly under the circumstances in order to minimize the effects and duration of any noncompliance caused by covid-19.
- Identify the specific nature and dates of the noncompliance.
- Identify how covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance, and the decisions and actions taken in response, including best efforts to comply and steps taken to come into compliance at the earliest opportunity.
- Return to compliance as soon as possible.
- Document the information, action, or condition specified above.
These new guidelines do not apply to Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action activities, however. The agency plans to address those areas separately in the future.
Environmental groups and former environmental compliance officials criticized the EPA’s move.
“This is outrageous,” the Environmental Defense Fund tweeted on Thursday. “The Trump administration is busy rolling back our environmental protections while the world is (rightly) focused on covid-19.”
Gina McCarthy led EPA enforcement under President Obama and is currently president and CEO of the National Resources Defense Council. “This is an open license to pollute,” her public statement says. “The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. Instead it is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”
Eric Schaeffer, director of civil enforcement at the EPA during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, now heads up the Environmental Integrity Project.
“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,” his public letter to Bodine said.