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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 WarrenBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Top Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee Consumer bureau director resigns after Biden's inauguration MORE and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote David Sirota: Democrats gave away leverage in forcing vote on ,000 checks Sanders to slow down NDAA veto override in bid to get vote on K checks proposal 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 WheelerBiden 'freeze' of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards 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.”

“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.”

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“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.