EPA’s Policy of Ignoring Pollution Comes to an End
WASHINGTON – Today marks the end of an Environmental Protection Agency non-enforcement policy that gave industries permission to stop monitoring and reporting pollution for reasons related to COVID-19—with no requirement to notify EPA or the public. This unnecessary policy put millions of people’s health at risk -- particularly Black, Latino, indigenous and low-income people who often live near polluting facilities.
After EPA announced the policy in March, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and a coalition of environmental justice, climate justice and public interest advocacy groups filed a petition seeking an emergency rule to require companies to publicly disclose when they stopped monitoring and reporting their pollution and relied on the policy to do so.
The groups included Public Citizen, Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Center for Coalfield Justice, Clean Water Action, Coming Clean, Flint Rising, Indigenous Environmental Network, Just Transition Alliance, Los Jardines Institute, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Water You Fighting For, and West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc.
The following is a statement by John Bowman, Managing Director for Government Affairs at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council):
“Giving polluters permission to put our health at risk during a global health emergency was a travesty. It’s long past time to end this illegal and unnecessary policy that benefits industry over protecting public health, especially in communities already overburdened by harmful pollution.
“Now the EPA owes the public a full accounting of companies that took advantage of this terrible policy to suspend their pollution compliance monitoring. And when we identify polluting companies that relied on this policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re going to take a close look at how much they may have harmed people.”
Following is a statement by Michele Roberts, national Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform:
“We’re glad this shameful non-enforcement policy is ending today, but it should have never existed. For far too long, chemical, oil, and energy companies have been allowed to risk the safety, pollute the air and water, and damage the health, life, and wellbeing of low-income communities and people of color. We need improved monitoring and enforcement for frontline communities – especially during a global pandemic and mid-Atlantic hurricane season – not a blanket excuse for industry to double down on these injustices.”
Following is a statement by Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Director at Clean Water Action:
“Giving polluters a sweeping pass on complying with regulations meant to protect people’s health and the environment was not the right way to approach challenges during this crisis. We don’t have a way of knowing what risks were imposed on people and the environment, for example, additional air pollution that may have impacted people in fenceline communities or increases in water contamination into our drinking water sources.”
Following is a statement by Judy Robinson, Executive Director, Coming Clean:
“Communities and workers endangered by this giveaway to polluting and hazardous industries still don't know which facilities suspended critical equipment monitoring or emissions reporting under this ill-considered policy, or what hazards they were exposed to as a result. EPA and these companies still owe their neighbors and their employees full disclosure of exactly what activities and requirements were suspended at which facilities and for how long.”
Following is a statement by Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen:
“Led by a former coal lobbyist, the EPA unconscionably used the pandemic as an excuse to issue a de facto license to pollute to businesses across the country. We’ll never know the true damage inflicted, but it is surely worse in communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods that are both more commonly located near polluting facilities and are suffering far worse from Covid-19 than richer, predominantly white areas. Unfortunately, given the horrendous record of this administration, ending the EPA’s compliance reporting moratorium doesn’t mean that Americans can count on the agency to resume enforcing the law against polluters.”
The coalition filed a petition in April, after EPA issued an unprecedented directive allowing companies to stop monitoring and reporting their compliance with air and water pollution limits or hazardous waste risks if the company claimed a pandemic-related constraint. Monitoring and reporting are at the core of the EPA’s enforcement of bedrock environmental laws and serve as a critical means of deterring air and water emissions.
The action came as the COVID pandemic posed great risks to the respiratory systems of millions nationwide, especially those in historically under-invested communities and communities of color. A groundbreaking story by the Associated Press found that more than 3,000 oil drillers, sewage plants, refineries and other polluters had been granted exemptions from state reporting requirements, after state regulators followed the EPA’s lead and granted leniency. In addition, 40% fewer tests of pollution from smokestacks were conducted in March and April compared with the same period last year, the AP reported.
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.