The Environmental Protection Agency has suspended its job of protecting the environment.
On Thursday, the agency issued a memo essentially giving companies a pass on polluting, stating that it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”
This announcement creates a loophole for companies to pollute if they can cite the coronavirus as a reason for violating environmental laws.
This uses COVID-19 as an excuse to allow polluters to stop following environmental rules set in place to protect human and environmental health. This new policy is “temporary,” but there is no end date set.
Shockingly, the statement did not reserve the EPA’s right to act if there is an imminent threat to public health. It will task states to ‘work with’ facilities to address threats to communities and the environment. Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement in the Obama Administration, called the measure a nationwide waiver of environmental rules and was not aware of any prior instance of the agency renouncing its authority in this way.
Oil, gas, coal, and other polluting industries have capitalized on the coronavirus crisis and lobbied for more lax rules on air and water pollution.
Commonly, there are provisions included in settlements of past environmental lawsuits for “unforeseeable circumstances.” This can relieve polluters of responsibilities during events like flooding, earthquake, or other natural disasters. Industries have been pointing to these provisions to evade responsibility while also declaring their employees as essential to exempt workers from shelter-in-place mandates. It’s suspected that companies and industries navigating market turmoil will shed environmental goals. This only heightens concerns that some companies will also cut protective corners with this new drastic lack of oversight.
There’s little assurance the same industries lobbying for regulatory rollbacks will voluntarily comply with rules that protect human and environmental health.
And the pains of pollution are not felt evenly among all communities. Environmental justice communities that have long been targeted and burdened by pollution, from coal plants to incinerators and landfills, will be severely impacted. These are the same communities that are most impacted by COVID-19, with many people losing their jobs and health insurance. They should not be subjected to worsening air and water quality that weakens their health during a pandemic.
We need strong safeguards from pollution - not an abandonment during a global pandemic by the entity charged to protect us.
Join Green America in standing up to this dangerous policy today:
2) Call out the EPA on social media
Use these sample tweets.
The US @EPA is telling Corporate America there’s no sheriff in town. Using COVID-19 as an excuse to not enforce pollution regulations will increase the health risks of all Americans, and especially vulnerable communities. EPA must continue to protect our health. #EPADoYourJob
The US @EPA is cynically using COVID-19 to suspend enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws. At a time when we’re working to contain a pandemic, we should not risk the health of millions of Americans with increased pollution. #EPADoYourJob
3) Send a Letter to the Editor
You can write a letter or opinion piece on why we need strong protection from pollution (we've included sample text below). Send to your local newspaper or copy and paste into comments on existing articles.
I read with dismay [story title, date] regarding the US EPA’s new policy of not enforcing environmental regulations due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Using a health crisis to give polluters a pass from regulations will cause even more health crises nationwide. The EPA is charged with protecting our air and water quality. If it abdicates its duties, it is abandoning its job to protect the health of all Americans at a time when we are already fighting to contain a deadly virus. Our most vulnerable communities and people of color nationwide will be particularly hard hit. The US EPA must reverse course and take action now to protect the health of all.