The EPA issued a news release Thursday unveiling its new temporary enforcement discretion policy which permits normally-regulated US facilities to ignore current environmental standards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the March 26 release.
"This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment."
Under the policy, relevant facilities will be required to document their decisions and provide details on how their noncompliance was related to the novel coronavirus. Due to its indefinite duration, the agency will announce the policy’s termination at least seven days in advance.
“This policy does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law,” noted the agency. Despite being announced this week, the new policy will be retroactively applicable from March 13.
Cynthia Giles, an Obama administration-era head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement, asserted to The Hill that the move was unusual because the agency did not reserve its “right to act in the event of an imminent threat to public health.”
“It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic,” she explained to the outlet. “And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.”
The EPA’s loosening of regulations comes just days after American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Michael J. Sommers issued a letter to US President Donald Trump and the environmental agency, requesting “temporary relief through nonessential compliance discretion.”
“I am writing to request that the Administration and states recognize that API’s members provide the necessary fuels that ensure products and services are delivered in a timely fashion around the country. Our supply chain is robust and complex,” Sommers argued in the letter, dated March 20.
The executive also highlighted that “the COVID-19 pandemic represents a significant and historic threat to our nation,” and the temporary lifting of regulations would allow the industry to better respond to the crisis.