EPA, Citing Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters

Credit: David J. Phillip/AP.
One former senior EPA official called the move “a nationwide waiver of environmental rules.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 26 March announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories, and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.

The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions, and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Issued by the EPA’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water, and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.

Companies normally are required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.

“In general, the EPA 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 and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the order states.

It said the agency’s focus during the outbreak would be “on situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment” and said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules.

The order asks companies to “act responsibly” if they cannot currently comply with rules that require them to monitor or report the release of hazardous air pollution. Businesses, it said, should “minimize the effects and duration of any noncompliance” and keep records to report to the agency how Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from meeting pollution rules.

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