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More than 150 groups write in opposition to EPA coronavirus compliance policy

More than 150 groups write in opposition to EPA coronavirus compliance policy
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A coalition of more than 150 groups wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oppose a controversial memo in which the agency said it temporarily might not seek penalties against companies that don’t monitor their pollution

The March 26 document says the agency temporarily “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance.”

In a Tuesday letter to the EPA and congressional leaders, the 152 groups wrote that the EPA’s policy, which has no end date, “endangers health and safety precisely when public health is uniquely vulnerable.”

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“While we understand that worker shortages may be a reality at the moment, EPA’s policy goes far beyond reasonable and appropriate accommodation to the current situation,” the letter said.  

The organizations that signed the letter represent a variety of environmental justice, health, conservation and other groups. They include well-known groups such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace U.S., as well as local groups.

They called on the agency to rescind the policy, replace it with a narrower policy or require immediate disclosures to the agency and timely disclosures to the public of such suspensions. 

They also said the agency should provide a mechanism for workers and community members to anonymously report specific concerns. 

An EPA official told The Hill in an email that the agency “continues to enforce environmental laws and protect human health and the environment nationwide during these unprecedented times.”

“We also are mindful that the COVID-19 public health emergency may affect facility operations and the availability of key staff, contractors, and others involved in the important work of complying with the nation’s environmental protection laws,” the official added. “Given the fact that millions of facilities are regulated by EPA, under EPA’s Temporary Policy a facility does not have to wait for EPA approval to implement worker protections that could impact compliance with routine monitoring and reporting requirements."

The agency has also told members of Congress that it "is not seeking penalties for noncompliance only in circumstances that involve routine monitoring and reporting requirements, if, on a case-by-case basis, EPA agrees that such noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Critics argue, however, that the damage will already be done by the time the EPA makes its decisions about whether the outbreak was a reason for the noncompliance.