Trump Uses Covid-19 Pandemic To Temporarily Suspend EPA Regulations
The Trump administration did not waste time taking advantage of the covid-19 pandemic to further roll back environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on March 26, 2020 that it temporarily suspended enforcement of environmental laws during the pandemic. The policy applies retroactively to March 13, 2020.
Under the policy, the EPA will not penalize those who break the environmental laws that keep our air, water, and land free of pollution. The EPA gives an example of water regulations under the current policy. The federal agency “does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies.” In other words, a regulated facility can break environmental laws without penalty if it qualifies for “enforcement discretion.”
“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”
Why suspending regulations is not needed
The stated reason for the rollback of environmental regulations is that the agency is taking the pandemic “into account” and is “cognizant of potential worker shortages...as well as the travel and social distancing restrictions imposed by both governments and corporations.” The EPA thinks that “there may be constraints on the ability of a facility or laboratory to carry out certain activities required by our federal environmental permits, regulations, and statutes.”
Eric Schaeffer of Environmental Integrity Project and former director of civil enforcement at the EPA questions why facilities would experience worker shortages:
A letter to the EPA from environmental organizations questions whether the temporary rollback of environmental regulations is needed. The letter suggests that the EPA can “grant waivers where sources can show how the coronavirus makes compliance with certain requirements impossible.” To suspend monitoring and reporting requirements will have “ a very specific impact on public health and safety in many cases,” according to the letter.
Trump’s history of environmental rollbacks
In 2018, EPA enforcement of actions declines to their lowest levels in many years, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. The report finds that in some instances, the declines in enforcement “perpetuate a long-term trend driven in part by the enforcement program’s shrinking budget.” The EPA’s 2018 budget was $2.6 billion below 2017 funding levels.
The report’s findings show that the Trump administration has gutted the EPA. The EPA in 2018 completed less than 60 percent of the annual average since 2001. The EPA referred 123 of the worst violators to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. The EPA referred an average of 304 cases a year to the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration and 211 cases during the Obama administration.
Will the Trump administration rollback Interior Department regulations?
The Interior Department might be next to have its regulations temporarily suspended. The American Petroleum Association recently sent requests to Trump and federal agencies to temporarily suspend “non-essential compliance obligations,” The Hill reported. “The oil and natural gas industry needs to maintain safe and reliable operations, taking into consideration that there may be limited personnel capacity to manage the full scope of the current regulatory requirements,” API President Mike Sommers stated in a letter to Trump.