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.”

"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 MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden likely to tap Robert Califf to return as FDA head Biden faces pressure to pass infrastructure bills before climate summit Senate Democrat says Facebook offers 'crocodile tears about protecting children' MORE (D-Mass.), Cory BookerCory BookerDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMisguided recusal rules lock valuable leaders out of the Pentagon Biden's soft touch with Manchin, Sinema frustrates Democrats Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves MORE (D-Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act Democrats call on White House to explore sharing Moderna technology abroad Lawmakers introduce bill to limit data collection at border crossings MORE (D-Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDemocrats' reconciliation bill breaks Biden's middle class tax pledge We have a presidential leadership crisis — and it's only going to get worse Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-Calif.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinFill the Eastern District of Virginia  Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan MORE (D-Ill.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan Building back better by investing in workers and communities Barletta holds wide lead over GOP rivals in early poll of Pennsylvania governor race MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthBuilding back better by investing in workers and communities LIVE COVERAGE: Senators press military leaders on Afghanistan Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee MORE (D-Ill.). 

The letter to the Interior Department was signed by Merkley and Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBest shot at narrowing racial homeownership gap at risk, progressives say Democrats' reconciliation bill breaks Biden's middle class tax pledge Missouri education department calls journalist 'hacker' for flagging security flaws on state website MORE (D-Ore.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin 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. 

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"EPA is committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Former EPA chief to chair pro-Trump think tank's environmental center Lobbying world 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.