Energy & Environment

Green groups sue after EPA suspends enforcement of pollution monitoring due to coronavirus

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Environmental groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a March memo signaling that the agency would not seek penalties against companies that do not monitor their pollution during the coronavirus outbreak.

The March 26 memo allows any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

The EPA has argued the controversial memo was necessary as employees would otherwise be overwhelmed by case-by-case requests to halt pollution monitoring, but critics have called it a license to pollute.

“During a pandemic that is hitting people with heart and lung disease the hardest, it is senseless to push forward a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for polluters that will allow them to make our air and water dirtier without warning or repercussion. This policy benefits polluters and polluters alone—and all at our expense,” Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The NRDC filed the lawsuit with 14 other environmental groups. 

The EPA would not comment on the litigation, but said the policy “is a lawful and proper exercise of the Agency’s authority under extraordinary circumstances.”

The agency’s memo, which is temporary but has no set end date, asks companies to log when they were not able to monitor pollution and explain why COVID-19 was the cause, but critics say the damage will already be done.

Companies are expected to “comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible,” the agency wrote in a release announcing the change.

But the case argues monitoring and reporting also serve as a crucial deterrent from polluting.

People need accurate and timely information about their environment in order to protect themselves from pollution, the NRDC argues. If people cannot obtain timely information about air and water emissions, they will be unable to protect themselves from pollution — or take action against polluters. 

The suit follows a recent Harvard study linking high air pollution areas with more coronavirus deaths. 

The policy has largely left the EPA playing defense, sending a rare letter earlier this month to every member of Congress explaining the rationale for the policy. 

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy

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