WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency must issue an emergency rule protecting public health following its recent non-enforcement policy that encourages industries to stop monitoring and reporting pollution in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a petition filed today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of environmental justice, climate justice, and public interest advocacy groups. The directive creates a serious and immediate risk to people and communities, especially those overburdened by air and water pollution.
“This is a cruel paradox. The EPA is using an unprecedented public health crisis to justify allowing polluters to put our health at even greater risk—at a time when we most need their protection,” said Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s especially true for communities of color who disproportionately live with higher levels of pollution close to their homes. And it’s especially egregious because these same communities face higher risks from COVID-19, as a result of pollution-related heart and lung problems. This agency is abandoning its responsibility to protect our health. It’s time for EPA do its job and stop doing polluters’ dirty work.”
The groups petitioned the EPA to issue a rule requiring companies that take advantage of the policy to publicly disclose—in writing—when they stop monitoring or reporting their air and water pollution emissions, along with a detailed justification for doing so. The petition also urges EPA to notify the public by publishing that information within one day of notice from the companies.
The groups further called on EPA to issue this final rule within seven days, as any further delay would likely lead to widespread noncompliance in the meantime, resulting in serious damage to public health. Also, the most impacted would be already overburdened communities and people living near facilities that pollute.
“This suspension of EPA enforcement adds a heightened anxiety to environmental justice communities, far too many of which live in fear of potential explosions at nearby industrial facilities,” said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. "The policy is devastating to communities and one of its first impacts – leaving the public in the dark – must be stopped immediately through a rule that requires facilities to tell the public that they have stopped monitoring their own pollution so we can act.”
“Frontline communities were already living with a public health crisis due to disproportionate exposure to toxic pollution the EPA is charged with monitoring and mitigating, long before COVID-19 exacerbated the situation,” explained Climate Justice Alliance Executive Director, Angela Adrar. “We demand EPA do its job and give frontline communities a fighting chance to live their power during these challenging times that require a Just Recovery, not a free pass for polluters.”
“In shameless exploitation of the coronavirus emergency, the Trump administration has announced that it will stop enforcing our nation’s environmental rules,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “Requiring transparency, as we request in this petition, is a simple but crucial way to make sure that enforcement gets back on track after the emergency ends.”
In its non-enforcement directive issued last week, EPA asks—but does not require—companies to inform the agency if they stop monitoring pollution for COVID-19-related reasons. Environmental monitoring and reporting are essential for at-risk communities around the country.
People need accurate and timely information about their environment in order to protect themselves from pollution —especially in the midst of a pandemic that puts those with heart and lung disease at higher risk.
Monitoring and reporting also serve a critically important deterrent function. Facilities are more likely to stay within their pollution limits if they know someone is watching. EPA’s dangerous new non-enforcement policy will mean not only less information but also more pollution in already-overburdened communities.
COVID-19 is exacerbating social and environmental injustices in low-income communities and communities of color who live with disproportionate levels of pollution every day. These communities have higher rates of chronic respiratory problems, cancer and disease, making them more vulnerable to the worst impacts of COVID-19. Additionally, while experts stress the importance of frequent hand-washing to stop the spread of the disease, these communities are more likely to live with unsafe, unreliable, or unaffordable water supplies.
The NRDC and coalition groups’ petition is here: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/petition-emergency-rulemaking-administrator-united-states-environmental-protection-agency
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
The Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) is a national network of communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemical hazards. EJHA works to address the multiple harms caused by the hazardous chemical and energy industries — including waste, pollution, and health hazards — and support community-based solutions that improve health and well-being. Visit us at www.Ej4All.org.
The Climate Justice Alliance is a national member alliance of 70 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations and supporting networks in the climate justice movement. CJA is dedicated to building Just Transitions away from extractive systems of production, consumption and political oppression, and towards resilient, regenerative and equitable economies. www.climatejusticealliance.org