Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus

Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus
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Democratic senators are asking the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pause some or all of their rulemaking in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A group of eight lawmakers wrote to the EPA asking it to halt the finalization or implementation of any rules that “are likely to result in an increase in toxic chemicals or air or water pollution,” arguing that they could worsen the situation. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, we urge the EPA to halt the finalization or implementation of any rules and guidance documents that could impede air quality or are likely to result in the release of additional toxic chemicals into the air and environment while the coronavirus public health crisis continues,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter dated Thursday.

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“All federal agencies should be taking whatever steps they can to prevent worsening this already devastating pandemic, including by refraining from actions that will exacerbate underlying conditions that leave people at greater risk for infection and death,” they added. 

They particularly singled out regulations including proposed changes to mercury and air toxics standards and proposed rollbacks regarding methane and waste from power plants called coal ash. 

An EPA spokesperson said in a statement that the agency is "committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process as we continue moving forward with our regulatory agenda."

"Understanding that we are working under unprecedented times, EPA will continue to take this into consideration as we make progress on our mission of protecting human health and the environment," the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, three Democratic senators wrote to the Interior Department on Friday, saying that it should “stop pursuing any policy proposals or actions unrelated to the COVID-19 emergency that require a public comment period.”

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"Americans should not be required to find and comment on the Department’s rule making, while they are experiencing major disruptions with childcare, employment, and safety,” they wrote. 

An Interior Department spokesperson told The Hill that it will continue to look at comment periods and other actions on a “case-by-case basis with adjustments being made as necessary to ensure proper public input is received, while protecting the health and safety of the public and our employees.”

The letter to the EPA was signed by Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Budowsky: Why I back Kennedy, praise Markey MORE (D-Mass.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Ex-USAID employee apologizes, denies sending explosive tweets MORE (D-N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package MORE (D-Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition MORE (D-Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden VP race is highly fluid days before expected pick Harris, Ocasio-Cortez push climate equity bill with Green New Deal roots Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Calif.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Ill.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains? MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Duckworth: Republican coronavirus package would 'gut' Americans With Disabilities Act MORE (D-Ill.). 

The letter to the Interior Department was signed by Merkley and Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns Tensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  MORE (D-Ore.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats introduce bill to ban chlorpyrifos, other pesticides to protect farmworkers GOP lawmaker says he will oppose any attempts to delay election MORE (D-N.M.). 

On Thursday, the EPA did announce it would extend the period for public comments on one proposal referenced in the senators' letter. People were given an additional month to comment on the proposed Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, also known as the “secret science” rule, which would limit the agency’s use of studies that don’t make their underlying data public. 

"EPA is committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA, employee union sign contract after years of disputes OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump order aims to curb US agencies' use of foreign workers after TVA outrage | EPA transition back to the office alarms employees | Hundreds of green groups oppose BLM nominee EPA transition back to the office alarms employees MORE said in a statement on that decision. 

The letters also come amid a broader push from advocacy groups to suspend rulemaking or lengthen comment periods during the virus outbreak for similar reasons. 

—Updated at 4:49 p.m.