Energy & Environment

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.

“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 Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). 

The letter to the Interior Department was signed by Merkley and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (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 Wheeler 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.

Tags Andrew Wheeler Bob Casey Cory Booker Dick Durbin Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Ron Wyden Tammy Duckworth Tom Udall
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