EPA Relaxes Environmental Enforcement During Coronavirus Emergency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will relax enforcement of civil penalties for noncompliance with industrial air and water pollution laws during the coronavirus outbreak, the agency announced on Thursday.

Quarantines and illness may limit staff availability and cause a facility to violate the terms of its permits, wrote Susan Bodine, the EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. That includes monitoring air emissions, sampling wastewater discharges, and filing reports.

The policy states that, in the water sector, continued operation of drinking water treatment is the highest priority. If there is a staff shortage, emphasis should be placed on monitoring water supplies for microbial pathogens, nitrate, and lead.

Environmental groups decried the policy. More than a dozen groups, including the Environmental Integrity Project, Environment Texas, and Potomac Riverkeeper Network, sent a letter to the agency objecting to a “blanket waiver” on noncompliance.

“We understand the coronavirus is a public health emergency that may require a flexible response from EPA,” the groups wrote. “That response must be tailored to specific and appropriate circumstances and not offer a blanket waiver of requirements that many companies that are up and running may have no trouble meeting.”

To be eligible for the exemption, facilities must document how the Covid-19 outbreak caused noncompliance and what efforts they made to comply with the law.

The temporary policy is retroactive to March 13, and does not apply to Superfund activities. The policy has no set end date.

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