Green group eyes suit, argues EPA suspension of pollution monitoring may harm endangered species

Green group eyes suit, argues EPA suspension of pollution monitoring may harm endangered species
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A green group is planning to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that its recent directive to allow companies to suspend pollution monitoring during the coronavirus outbreak could violate laws that protect endangered species. 

In a letter to the EPA, the Center for Biological Diversity said the agency did not do its due diligence required by the Endangered Species Act by reviewing how excess pollution might affect nearby plants and animals.

“While people should certainly not be put at undue risk, the Trump administration must not be allowed to use this pandemic to give polluters free rein to foul our air and water and hurt wildlife,” Jared Margolis, an attorney with the center, said in a statement. 

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“Protecting our environment right now is crucial, and regulators must take reasonable measures to ensure that the response to COVID-19 does not jeopardize species at grave risk of extinction,” he added.

On March 26, the EPA issued a memo alerting industries the federal agency would not seek fines or penalties from companies that fail to monitor their pollution levels required under various laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The policy is temporary, but has no set end date.

Environmental groups have called it a license to pollute. And while the EPA under the directive requires companies to document when they did not monitor for pollution and explain how COVID-19 has influenced their monitoring capabilities, environmental groups argue it's too little too late, as the pollution will have already been emitted. 

The EPA said it would not comment on “threatened litigation.”

“The policy only forgives penalties for failure to carry out routine record keeping and monitoring and only if, on a 'case-by-case' basis, EPA agrees that the public health emergency was the cause. ...For all other COVID-19 caused noncompliance, the policy only says EPA will consider the circumstances when determining an appropriate response,” an agency official said in a statement to The Hill.

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the EPA to show what steps are being taken to protect endangered species within 14 days, or the organization will file suit.