The EPA will end its relaxed enforcement policy in response to the coronavirus pandemic on Aug. 31, according to a publicly released memo.
Since the policy was put in place, new federal guidelines have been issued to support the public health response and economic recovery efforts, Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assistance, wrote in the memo dated Monday.
“As state and local restrictions are relaxed or lifted, so too may the restrictions that potentially impede regulatory compliance, reducing the circumstances in which the temporary policy may apply,” Bodine wrote.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced its temporary enforcement policy March 26. It stopped the agency from seeking penalties from those not performing routine environmental compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification activities if they were unable to do so because of the pandemic.
The EPA won’t base any exercise of enforcement discretion on that policy for any noncompliance that occurs after Aug. 31, Bodine’s memo said.
It also said that because some states are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases, “there will be a period of adjustment” as businesses plan how to comply with both their environmental legal obligations and with public health guidance.
The EPA also may end the temporary policy “at any earlier time,” in response to changing conditions in a state or region, Bodine wrote. Should that happen, the EPA will provide seven days’ public notice.
The temporary policy has come under fire from environmentalists and congressional Democrats, some of whom called it an inappropriate concession to businesses. Environmental groups and nine states have filed lawsuits.
Inspector General’s Criticism
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General said in June that the agency’s reduction in enforcement activity during the pandemic put the agency’s regulatory mission at risk.
But EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended the policy as a sensible response to an unprecedented global pandemic.
“No one, anywhere in this country, is allowed to increase their emissions under our enforcement discretion,” Wheeler told lawmakers during a May 20 hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The termination date of Aug. 31, 2020, recognizes that while the country is beginning to reopen, there will be a period of adjustment as regulated entities plan how to effectively comply both with environmental legal obligations and with public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other agencies regarding actions suggested to stem the transmission and spread of Covid-19,” an EPA spokesman said.
House Democrats applauded the move, but also said it never should have been put into effect.
“While we’re glad the Trump EPA finally responded to our repeated demands to end this reckless policy, the agency either doesn’t know or will not reveal its impacts to either Congress or the American people,” wrote Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, respectively.
They also said they would “continue to conduct oversight until EPA answers for this and all of its failed policies.”
—With assistance from Kellie Lunney.