Committee Leaders Demand Changes to EPA’s Policy Relaxing Enforcement During Coronavirus Pandemic
Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment Chairwoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) sent a letter today to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler demanding transparency and additional changes to the Agency’s recently-announced guidance relaxing the enforcement of legal obligations during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Chairs also requested information about whether the EPA has evaluated the effects the new policy will have on human health and the environment.
“We remain concerned that this guidance, as written, fails to achieve EPA’s stated objectives while unnecessarily undermining ongoing compliance with environmental laws,” wrote Pallone, DeFazio and McCollum. “EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment requires the Agency to implement and enforce our nation’s health and environmental laws. This is particularly important for those communities who have long borne a disproportionate burden of pollution and who, according to multiple reports, are experiencing disproportionate mortality rates from COVID-19.”
The letter comes after staff of the three Committees were recently briefed by EPA on the proposal. As a follow-up to that briefing, the Committee leaders are seeking additional information on the policy and are requesting that Wheeler modify the guidance to clarify how it will operate in order to further safeguard public health.
“In light of emerging research connecting air pollution to death rates from COVID-19, it is imperative that EPA insist on compliance with our Nation’s health and environmental laws during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” the three Committee leaders continued. “While we recognize that the pandemic presents challenges for compliance and reporting obligations, EPA’s temporary enforcement policy, as currently written, needlessly weakens protections for human health and the environment at a time when they are needed most.”
The letter requests that EPA address several key concerns and modify its new policy to:
- Establish an end date to the new enforcement policy;
- Require facilities to notify appropriate authorities, if possible, prior to facility operations creating an acute risk or threat to human health or the environment so that there is sufficient time for appropriate response measures to be discussed, identified and implemented;
- Create greater transparency by posting on EPA’s website documents modifying existing compliance obligations; and
- Ensure agency enforcement staff have sufficient information to determine whether COVID-19 was the cause of any non-compliance
The letter concludes by asking EPA to provide additional information related to any inquiries EPA received regarding compliance throughout the pandemic, as well as what analyses — if any — were used to evaluate the effects the new policy will have on human health and the environment. The Committee leaders requested that Administrator Wheeler respond in writing by May 5, 2020.
A PDF of the letter is available here.