COVID-19 Special Coverage
EPA sends letters to Congress defending decision not to penalize companies for pollution during pandemic
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EPA sends letters to Congress defending decision not to penalize companies for pollution during pandemic

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent letters to each member of Congress on Thursday to defend its March 26decision to refrain from penalizing companies that do not monitor pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EPA announced a temporary policy decision on March 26 that it will not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting requirements if that noncompliance was caused by the pandemic.

After receiving backlash, the EPA sent letters to each member of Congress to clarify misconceptions and to assure Congress that it continues to enforce environmental protection and to protect human health.

The letters state that it is “critical” for the EPA to prioritize resources and  to recognize the “current risks facing the American people.” Diverting the staff to answer individual questions during this time would “hinder EPA’s ability to focus on continued protection of human health and the environment.”

However, the EPA emphasized that the temporary policy involved case-by-case determinations, which will be made after the pandemic is over. The EPA will not be seeking penalties for noncompliance only in situations in which that noncompliance was caused by the pandemic.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has stated:

EPA’s enforcement authority and responsibility remains active. This is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. We will continue to work with federal, state and tribal partners to ensure that facilities are meeting regulatory requirements, while taking appropriate steps to protect the health of our staff and the public.

The EPA emphasized that the measures identified in the policy are temporary and will be lifted once normal operations can be resumed.

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