Warren, Markey knock EPA over 'highly dangerous and irresponsible' rollback amid pandemic

Warren, Markey knock EPA over 'highly dangerous and irresponsible' rollback amid pandemic
© Greg Nash

Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in MORE and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies OVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE are slamming Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance that eased environmental compliance standards amid the coronavirus pandemic, joining a chorus of other Democrats and environmentalists who oppose the action. 

“It is disturbing that the administration would use this global public health crisis as cover to weaken regulations that protect our nation's air, water, lands, climate, and public health," wrote Markey and Warren in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations | Oil lobby says low prices still hurting industry | Conservative group wants Trump to go further in rolling back key environmental law States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues MORE on Friday.

“In the midst of a respiratory disease outbreak, rolling back environmental safeguards, particularly those that protect clean air and reduce lung disease and asthma is highly dangerous and irresponsible,” they added. 

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The Democratic senators also questioned the authority, rationale and process behind the decision. 

Their letter comes after the EPA announced late last month that it would suspend enforcement actions against companies who don’t monitor for pollution during the coronavirus outbreak.

The agency said in a statement that companies are expected to “comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible.”

The policy is temporary, but does not have an end date.

An EPA spokesperson on Monday pushed back on the senators’ characterization, saying in an email to The Hill that the guidance “is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.”

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“Regulated parties must document the basis for any claim that the pandemic prevented them from conducting that routine monitoring and reporting and present it to EPA upon request,” the spokesperson said. “This action was necessary to avoid tying up EPA staff time with questions about routine monitoring and reporting requirements and instead allow EPA to focus on continued protection of human health and the environment.”

“The policy does not say that the COVID-19 pandemic will excuse exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations, and statutes. EPA expects regulated entities to comply with all obligations and if they do not, the policy says that EPA will consider the pandemic, on a case-by-case basis, when determining an appropriate response,” the official added. 

Democrats and green groups have condemned the change.

Last week, lawmakers in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition called the guidance “irresponsible” and said in a letter that it “neglects the Agency’s core mission to protect public health.”

A coalition of environmental groups has also petitioned the EPA for more stringent disclosure of which companies have suspended environmental monitoring, saying that the policy “creates a clear opportunity for abuse.”

The EPA has defended its action.

“Contrary to allegations you may have read, EPA continues to enforce the environmental laws,” Wheeler wrote in a letter to every member of Congress.