Energy & Environment

9 states sue EPA for suspending pollution monitoring requirements during coronavirus

Nine states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a policy that halts penalizing companies that don’t monitor their pollution during the coronavirus outbreak.

March 26 memo issued by the EPA informs companies the agency won’t take legal action against companies that fail to track emissions, so long as the company documents when they stopped their pollution monitoring and why coronavirus was the cause.

“The Trump Administration is trying to use the current public health crisis to sweep environmental violations under the rug,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a release announcing the suit.

“What’s worse, the Administration is doing so even as evidence grows that communities exposed to air pollution are at increased risk from coronavirus.

The suit from the states argues the EPA failed to demonstrate the need for the sweeping change nor did it back the need to bypass the notice and comment period required for new rules. The agency has also exceeded its authorities under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act which require companies to both monitor and report their emissions to the EPA.

The suit, filed by California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia, follows a similar one filed by environmental groups in April.

The EPA would not comment on the litigation, but said the environmental agencies in each of the states that filed the lawsuit have also adopted enforcement discretion policies related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“The EPA temporary policy is a lawful and proper exercise of the Agency’s authority under extraordinary circumstances,” the agency said in a statement to The Hill. “This is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.” 

The EPA 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.

The agency’s memo is temporary, but has no set end date, and while companies must log when they suspended monitoring, critics say the environmental damage will have already been done. 

“The Trump Administration cannot give industries the green light to ignore critical environmental and public health laws, especially during a public health crisis,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “The EPA’s non-enforcement policy puts our already damaged public health in danger by freely allowing pollution from big corporations. There has never been a more important time to prioritize the health of our communities.”

Updated at 5:47 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Environmental Protection Agency Monitoring Pollution Xavier Becerra

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