04 • 01 • 2020

EPA Stops Enforcing Environmental Rules Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic

By Pete Stauffer

Please contact your members of Congress in support of EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment.

As the world scrambles to address the coronavirus pandemic, government leaders are recognizing the need to table certain responsibilities as they work to contain the virus and respond to urgent needs across society. But, the recent news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped enforcing environmental laws, flies in the face of public welfare and common sense.

On March 26th, the EPA announced a broad relaxation of environmental rules during the coronavirus pandemic. In a nutshell, the policy loosens requirements for facilities’ routine monitoring and reporting that helps determine compliance with environmental laws and informs the public whether facilities are complying with permits to protect air and water quality.

The policy also says that “EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring” and other testing and reporting in situations where EPA agrees COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides EPA with documentation. Additionally, where a facility suffers from the failure that may trigger a permit violation, the facility must still report, but the EPA will take COVID-19 into account when determining whether enforcement is appropriate.  
The EPA plays a critical role in protecting public health and the environment

The EPA policy will have serious negative consequences on our communities, including for those who rely on clean air and water for recreation. For example, the policy doesn’t require facilities to give public notice when they are suspending regular monitoring or reporting obligations, and therefore communities cannot protect themselves from heightened pollution risks. It could also lead to even less enforcement where polluting industries are already being under enforced.   

The response to EPA’s unprecedented action has been both swift and withering. As reported by the New York Times, Gina McCarthy, the former head of EPA under the Obama administration, called it “an open license to pollute” and an “abdication of the EPA mission to protect our well being.” Meanwhile, Cynthia Giles, a former senior EPA enforcement official, said she knew of no previous time in the EPA’s history where it “relinquished its fundamental authority” as she said it did Thursday.

Every person in the country benefits from the critical work that the EPA does to protect public health and the environment. The EPA was created fifty years ago, with strong support from both major political parties, to protect clean air, clean water and the health of all Americans. For Surfrider members, the benefits of the EPA include healthy beaches and surf breaks, as well as vibrant communities and businesses that rely on these resources.

Our federal leaders need to hear from people who won’t accept the Trump administration’s use of a pandemic to weaken protections for public health and the environment. Members of Congress can protect critical funding for clean water and coastal management programs that the administration has proposed slashing. Congressional leaders are also fighting the administration’s actions to weaken environmental laws by introducing resolutions to protect the Clean Water Rule (H. Res. 797) and National Environmental Policy Act (H. Res. 89, S. Res 537).

Please contact your federal representatives and ask them to support the Environmental Protection Agency and its mission to protect public health and the environment!