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States Sue EPA as Agency Relaxes Pollution Regulations Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic

— May 14, 2020

The attorneys general who filed the lawsuit noted the irony in allowing companies to pollute more during a public health crisis.

Nine states have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has loosened restrictions on pollution compliance in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

According to Reuters, the EPA has largely forgone both compliance and monitoring requirements related to federal clean air and water laws. The agency justified its decision as one of economic necessity.

The temporary policy, says Reuters, was announced at the end of March. Under its terms, the EPA said it would not seek penalties for violating “routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations,” so long as such violations were caused by coronavirus-related problems.

An Australian coal mine. Image via Lock the Gate Aliance/Flickr. (CCA-BY-3.0)

The lawsuit—filed by the attorneys general of nine states—asserts that the EPA’s guidance is inappropriately broad and not sufficiently transparent.

“The policy’s effective waiver of these requirements, which are foundational to our federal environmental laws, exceeds EPA’s authority,” their lawsuit says.

Reuters notes that the suit is being led by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She has received support from her counterparts in New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia. Collectively, they claim that the EPA, as an individual agency, cannot waive “critical monitoring and reporting obligations that inform regulators and the general public of pollution hazards.”

Furthermore, the attorneys general observed the irony in potentially exposing more Americans to hazardous waste and chemicals amidst an ongoing public health crisis.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra suggested, in a statement, that the Trump administration is using coronavirus as an excuse to loosen restrictions the president has always wanted to remove.

“[The Trump administration] is trying to use the current public health crisis to sweep environmental violations under the rug,” Becerra said. “What’s worse, the administration is doing so even as evidence grows that communities exposed to air pollution are at increased risk.”

Becerra’s last comment refers to the disproportionate rate at which African-Americans have fallen ill or died from coronavirus.

Nevertheless, the EPA has stood by its decision, saying the policy “is a lawful and proper exercise of the Agency’s authority under extraordinary circumstances.

“EPA’s enforcement authority and responsibility remains active and the temporary guidance does not allow any increase in emissions,” the agency said in a statement. “This is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.”

The San Francisco Chronicle adds that the EPA sued in mid-April by environmental groups, who have demanded that the agency notify the public when a company is no longer complying with emissions and pollution regulations.

Under President Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency has shied away from enforcement, preferring instead to do away with regulations, guidance, and other practical policies.


California sues EPA for suspending pollution enforcement during coronavirus pandemic

Nine U.S. states sue EPA for easing environmental enforcement amid pandemic

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